Ruminations

Blog dedicated primarily to randomly selected news items; comments reflecting personal perceptions

Monday, December 31, 2012

Overcoming Trauma

"Despite all efforts by a team of eight specialists in Mount Elizabeth Hospital to keep her stable, her condition continued to deteriorate over these two days.
"She had suffered from severe organ failure following serious injuries to her body and brain. She was courageous in fighting for her life for so long against the odds but the trauma to her body was too severe for her to overcome."
Dr. Kevin Loh, chief executive, Mount Elizabeth Hospital, Singapore

What the Indian government and society in general preferred to ignore in the sexist failures of their traditional culture of male domination, of female vulnerability in the lifetime of the 23-year-old physiotherapist university student, they were anxious to correct as best they could in the aftermath of a horrendously bestial assault on two young people planning to marry and looking toward their future together.

Indian protesters light candles around a mannequin representing the rape victim during a Delhi rally
Indian protesters light candles around a mannequin representing the rape victim during a rally in Delhi. Photograph: Sajjad Hussain/AFP/Getty Images
There is no future now for either of them.  She is dead, and he witnessed the gruesomely horrible method of her death, while himself being beaten, unable to defend her from the evil that overtook their lives.  Not only was she repeatedly gang-raped over a prolonged period of time by six men utterly devoid of any human sensitivities, but her rapists also repeatedly jammed an iron rod into her abdomen, destroying her visceral organs.

The surgical specialists in Indonesia, specializing in organ transplant, were incapable of doing anything to save her life.  Not only were her internal organs destroyed, but she suffered irreparable brain damage; her life hung on a slender thread of hope for her survival.  When the six attackers had finished desecrating her body and beating her boyfriend, they concluded the atrocity by stripping them both and flinging them as garbage from the moving bus where the attack had taken place.

The country is now, finally,  facing the reality of dreadful abuse and danger present in the everyday lives of Indian women and children.  Despite the horrendous crime and its reportage and obvious general knowledge, there has been no respite in the severity and commonality of these attacks.  Others, women and girls, have since been gang-raped, and some of them murdered, their bodies dumped as refuse.

These atrocities are so common that they elicit little response from police.  Distraught women may approach police to report what has occurred to them but there are no guarantees that their complaints will have a sympathetic hearing and that they can expect due process of law to induce justice.  Women are doubly penalized; their claims of attack are dismissed, and when it becomes common knowledge, their families face disgrace.

Women reporting that they have been victims of violent physical attacks risk being ridiculed and humiliated by the very law enforcement agents that exist for the purpose of protecting society.  Their abusers escape justice because men feel in their patriarchal society, in which women are treated like casual commodities, that they are entitled to take whatever they please.

Indian protesters hold placards
Protests over the death of gang rape victim 'Damini' have taken place across India. Photograph: Harish Tyagi/EPA
Disrespect for basic human rights, for the safety and security of women vulnerable to men's violent psychotic outbursts is tolerated because it is just too much trouble to become upset about a cultural failing that has been part of this particular society for far too long.

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Ancestor Worship Fading Fast

Meddle with the birth rate and the upturning of aeons of cultural and social heritage in respect for the aged and care of one's parents and it all becomes transformed into a national problem of social failure.  In a tradition where the object was to produce many children so that they might, in their parents' old age combine their resources to the upkeep of the elderly, what happens when a one-child policy upsets the balance of that culture?

(Andy Wong /AP)

The single child in the family is pandered to, its every whim satisfied and the child has a sense of entitlement, and along with it, no sense of responsibility for the very people who gave him life, responded to his nurturing needs, and in their turn would require emotional and material support at a time in life when their practical usefulness to society has dissipated into a condition of need.

The State, which made a concerted effort through the decision to control population size in a country representing the most populous on Earth, fearing it would have insufficient natural resources to feed and shelter more than it could handle, now is faced with a dwindling workforce, an unnatural disproportion between the genders, and a teeming elderly population requiring care.

In instituting the one-child rule, people were forced to comply or face penalties, and the country has ended up with the living fact that many families chose not to nurture female babies (practising gender selection and infanticide), and to raise male heirs instead.  Creating a significant demographic of single men, a large pool of men anxious to find a wife among whom fewer women could pick and choose to ensure maximum benefit for themselves.

The entire apparatus of state birth control and population-centric laws that ensured a more gradual birthrate, also produced fewer workers.  But in such an immense population there are still plenty of people seeking employment and earnings, compelling them to leave their farms and villages (where a relaxation of the one-child rule allowing two children existed) to find employment in the cities.

Separated from their villages, from the local customs and covenants, struggling to find a life for themselves in the competitive stress and anonymity of big city life and employment, the needs of parents left behind (often with grandchildren left in their care) became less top of mind.  The traditional extended family unit in Chinese society has been irreparably disrupted.

Elderly parents' needs and welfare are now being neglected; left to their own devices many elderly cannot cope, many others are suffering abuse at the hands of their children forcing them to live in substandard conditions.  In other instances the incidence of children attempting to manipulate elderly parents into surrendering their possessions to their children.

And the Chinese state is left to pick up the pieces in caring for its rapidly growing elderly population.  In a country for which state institutions geared to the care of the elderly is simply not a priority, nor a visible presence, nor do there appear to be plans to create a state infrastructure geared to care of the frail elderly. 

Which made it mandatory that something be done rather than completely abandon all those aged Chinese to an ungentle fate. National legislation now makes it unlawful for children to ignore the needs of their parents.  They must, furthermore make certain to visit their aged parents "often".  For elderly parents now have the right under law if they feel neglected to sue their children.

Not a very elegant solution to a distinctly unpleasant human problem.

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The Earth’s Story in 60 Seconds

I love clever filmmakers. I love science. So of course, I love it when clever filmmakers makes clever science videos. John Boswell is one of the creators of Symphony of Science, a fantastic series of videos featuring scientists and science communicators auto-tuned to original music.

He also makes other videos about science under the name MelodySheep on YouTube … which is how I found a fantastic short piece called “Our Story in One Minute”. It shows the entire 4.5 billion year history of the Earth compressed down into one minute. Well, the highlights at least, with a stress on humanity’s involvement. It’s fascinating and wonderful.

Pretty cool. And is that my friend Brian Cox standing on the mountain at the end? I think it is.

If you liked this video, you might also like “Timeline: The Age of the Universe”, which has the 13.73 billion year history of the entire Universe compressed to 13.73 minutes; a billion years per minute. It was created by Craig Hall, who wrote a piece of music specifically for the video.

He also posted helpful comments in the video itself to tell you what was happening in the Universe and when.

Both of these videos should be shown in science classrooms! I think they’d help inspire kids to learn more about the cosmos we live in.

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Indian gang-rape victim planned to marry man attacked alongside her, friends reveal

Associated Press | Dec 31, 2012 9:42 AM ET | Last Updated: Dec 31, 2012 10:08 AM ET
More from Associated Press
Mahesh Kumar / AP
Mahesh Kumar / AP Indian students shout slogans during a protest rally in Hyderabad, India, Monday, Dec. 31, 2012. The gang-rape and killing of a New Delhi student has set off an impassioned debate about what India needs to do to prevent such a tragedy from happening again. The country remained in mourning Monday, two days after the 23-year-old physiotherapy student died from her internal wounds in a Singapore hospital. 
 
The Indian woman who was brutally gang raped and later died of her injuries was cremated Sunday, as her friends revealed she was engaged to marry the man attacked alongside her.
The pair were to be married in February, The Telegraph reported.

“They had made all the wedding preparations and had planned a wedding party in Delhi,” said Meena Rai, a friend and neighbour told the newspaper. “I really loved this girl. She was the brightest of all.”
India remained in mourning Monday, two days after the 23-year-old physiotherapy student died from her internal wounds in the Singapore hospital where she had been sent for emergency treatment. Six men have been arrested and charged with murder in the Dec. 16 attack on a New Delhi bus. They face the death penalty if convicted, police said.

Sajjad Hussain / AFP / Getty Images
Sajjad Hussain / AFP / Getty ImagesIndian protesters light candles around a mannequin representing the rape victim during a rally in New Delhi on December 31, 2012. The family of an Indian gang-rape victim said they would not rest until her killers are hanged as they spoke of their own pain and trauma over a crime that has united the country in grief.
The country’s army and navy also cancelled New Year’s celebrations out of respect for the woman, whose gang-rape and murder has set off an impassioned debate about what the nation needs to do to prevent such a tragedy from happening again.

Protesters and politicians have called for tougher rape laws, major police reforms and a transformation in the way the country treats its women.

“To change a society as conservative, traditional and patriarchal as ours, we will have a long haul,” said Ranjana Kumari, director of the Center for Social Research. “It will take some time, but certainly there is a beginning.”

“She has become the daughter of the entire nation,” said Sushma Swaraj, a leader of the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party.

Hundreds of mourners continued their daily protests near Parliament demanding swift government action.

“So much needs to be done to end the oppression of women,” said Murarinath Kushwaha, a man whose two friends were on a hunger strike to draw attention to the issue.

Manish Swarup / AP
Manish Swarup / AP Indian members of All India Students' Association (AISA) shout slogans during a protest in New Delhi, India, Monday, Dec. 31, 2012. The gang-rape and killing of a New Delhi student has set off an impassioned debate about what India needs to do to prevent such a tragedy from happening again. The country remained in mourning Monday, two days after the 23-year-old physiotherapy student died from her internal wounds in a Singapore hospital. 
 
Some commentators compared the rape victim, whose name has not been released by police, to Mohamed Bouazizi, the Tunisian street vendor whose self-immolation set off the Arab Spring. There was hope her tragedy could mark a turning point for gender rights in a country where women often refuse to leave their homes at night out of fear and where sex-selective abortions and even female infanticide have wildly skewed the gender ratio.

“It cannot be business as usual anymore,” the Hindustan Times newspaper wrote in an editorial.
Politicians from across the spectrum called for a special session of Parliament to pass new laws to increase punishments for rapists — including possible chemical castration — and to set up fast-track courts to deal with rape cases within 90 days.

The government has proposed creating a public database of convicted rapists to shame them, and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has set up two committees to look into what lapses led to the rape and to propose changes in the law.

The Delhi government on Monday inaugurated a new helpline — 181 — for women, though it wasn’t working because of glitches.

Responding to complaints that police refuse to file cases of abuse or harassment brought by women, the city force has appointed an officer to meet with women’s groups monthly and crack down on the problem, New Delhi Lt. Gov. Tejendra Khanna said.

“We have mandated that any time any lady visits a police station with a complaint, it has to be recorded on the spot,” he said.

Kumari said the Delhi police commissioner sent her a message Monday asking her group to restart police sensitivity training that it had suspended due to lack of funds.

There have also been proposals to install a quota to ensure one-third of Delhi’s police are women.
There also have been signs of a change in the public debate about crimes against women.

Other rapes suddenly have become front-page news in Indian newspapers, and politicians are being heavily criticized for any remarks considered misogynistic or unsympathetic to women.

A state legislator from Rajasthan was ridiculed Monday across TV news channels after suggesting that one way to stop rapes would be to change girls’ school uniforms to pants instead of skirts.
“How can he tell us to change our clothes?” said Gureet Kaur, a student protester in the Rajasthani town of Alwar. “Why can’t girls live freely?”

Some activists have accused politicians of being so cossetted in their security bubbles that they have no idea of the daily travails people are suffering.

Kumari said the country was failing in its basic responsibility to protect its citizens. But she was heartened to see so many young men at the protests along with women.

“I have never heard so many people who felt so deep down hurt,” she said. “It will definitely have some impact.”

With files from National Post staff

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Sunday, December 30, 2012

Italian Nobel laureate Rita Levi-Montalcini dies 

BBC News online - 30 December 2012
Archive photo of  Rita Levi Montalcini in 2009 Levi-Montalcini continued to work into her old age
 
The Italian Nobel prize-winning neurologist Rita Levi-Montalcini has died at the age of 103.
Miss Levi-Montalcini lived through anti-semitic discrimination under fascism to become one of Italy's top scientists and most respected figures.

She won acclaim for her work on cells, which furthered understanding of a range of conditions, including cancer.

In 1986 she shared the Nobel prize for medicine with biochemist Stanley Cohen for research carried out in the US.

Her niece, Piera Levi-Montalcini, told La Stampa newspaper that she had died peacefully "as if sleeping" after lunch.

Her aunt had continued to carry out several hours of research every day until her death, she said.
Rita Levi-Montalcini was born in 1909 to a wealthy Jewish family in the northern city of Turin, where she studied medicine.

But after she graduated in 1936 the fascist government banned Jews from academic and professional careers, and Miss Levi-Montalcini set up a makeshift laboratory in her bedroom, experimenting on chicken embryos.

"She worked in primitive conditions," Italian astrophysicist Margherita Hack told Italian TV. "She is really someone to be admired."


Miss Levi-Montalcini's family lived underground in Florence after the Germans invaded Italy in 1943. She later worked as doctor for the allied forces that liberated the city, treating refugees.

From 1947 she was based for more than 20 years in the US, at Washington University in Saint Louis, Missouri. There she discovered nerve growth factor, which regulates the growth of cells.

She later worked at the National Council of Scientific Research in Rome.

Her research was recognised to have advanced the understanding of conditions including tumours, malformations and senile dementia.

In 2001 she was nominated to the Italian upper house of parliament as a senator for life, an honour bestowed on some of Italy's most distinguished public figures.

She was an ambassador for the Rome-based UN Food and Agriculture Organisation, and founded the Levi-Montalcini Foundation, which carries out charity work in Africa.

Miss Levi-Montalcini never married, saying her life had been "enriched by excellent human relations, work and interests".

In a 2009 interview she said: "At 100, I have a mind that is superior - thanks to experience - than when I was 20."

Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti praised Miss Levi-Montalcini's "charismatic and tenacious" character and her lifelong battle to "defend the battles in which she believed".

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Dave Barry’s Year in Review 2012

The Washington Post
Illustration by Steve Brodner
It was a cruel, cruel year — a year that kept raising our hopes, only to squash them flatter than a dead possum on the interstate.

Example: This year the “reality” show “Jersey Shore,” which for six hideous seasons has been a compelling argument in favor of a major Earth-asteroid collision, finally got canceled, and we dared to wonder if maybe, just maybe, we, as a society, were becoming slightly less stupid.
 
(Illustration by Steve Brodner)

But then, WHAP, we were slapped in our national face by the cold hard frozen mackerel of reality in the form of the hugely popular new “reality” show “Here Comes Honey Boo Boo,” which, in terms of intellectual content, makes “Jersey Shore” look like “Hamlet.”

Another example: As the year began, the hottest recording artist was the brilliant singer-songwriter Adele, whose popularity made us think that maybe, just maybe, after years of rewarding overhyped auto-tuned dreck, we were finally developing more sophisticated musical tastes, and then ...
WHAP, we were assaulted from all sides by the monster megahit videoGangnam Style,” in which a Korean man prances around a variety of bizarre Korean settings riding an imaginary Korean horse and shouting a song that, except for the words “Eh, sexy lady,” is entirely in Korean.

It was that kind of year. Remember back in 2011, when the big sex scandal involved Anthony Weiner, the ferret-like congressperson who committed political suicide by tweet? We all thought, “Oh, well, another Washington politician who wants to regulate everything except his own personal ding-dong. At least there are SOME institutions, such as the Secret Service, the CIA and the Army, where males in positions of responsibility can control their ...”

WHAP.

Did anything good come out of 2012? Maybe. Just maybe. Consider: For years now, Washington has been paralyzed by bitterly partisan gridlock, unable and unwilling to act in the face of a looming, potentially disastrous economic crisis. But this year, we, the people, finally did something about it. We went to the polls, and we made our decision. Which is why now, as the year ends, we can look forward to a future in which Washington is ...

WHAP.

So, okay, basically we need to forget about 2012 as soon as possible. But just so we can remember exactly what it is we need to forget, let’s pour ourselves a stiff drink and take a look back at the train wreck we’re staggering away from, starting with ...

January
... in which President Obama, in the State of the Union address, boldly rebuts critics who charge that his economic policies have been a failure by displaying the scalp of Osama bin Laden, which a White House aide carries in a special briefcase.

Meanwhile the race for the Republican presidential nomination, which began in approximately 2003, continues to be a spicy political gumbo of excitement. The emerging front runner is Mitt Romney, who combines a strong résumé of executive experience with the easygoing natural human warmth of a parking meter. Still in contention, however, is Newt Gingrich, whose popularity surges briefly, only to wane when voters begin to grasp the fact that he is Newt Gingrich. This opens the door for Rick Santorum, whose strong suit is that he has a normal first name, and who apparently at one point was a senator or governor of Pennsylvania or possibly Vermont.

 Abroad, an Iranian nuclear scientist is killed in a suspicious bomb blast. Responding to accusations that the United States was behind the killing, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton declares “we had nothing to do with it,” adding that if any more Iranian nuclear scientists are killed, “we will have had nothing to do with that, either.”

In the new year’s first major disaster, the Mediterranean cruise ship Costa Concordia goes way off course, hits a rock and sinks. The captain, Francesco Schettino, is immediately relieved of command and placed in charge of the Italian economy.

The economic news remains bad in ...

February
... as American motorists struggle to afford ever-higher gasoline prices, prompting a pledge from President Obama to do “whatever it takes” to bring relief at the pump, “including killing Osama bin Laden again.” Mitt Romney responds that he, more than any other candidate, understands the consumers’ pain over this issue, since he owns “at least 45 cars.”

In Spain and Greece, hundreds of thousands of people take to the streets in protest against government-imposed austerity measures necessitated by the fact that for the past five years pretty much nobody in Spain or Greece has done anything except take to the streets in protest.
Tensions between the United States and Pakistan mount after eyewitnesses in Waziristan claim that an unmanned U.S. Predator drone robbed a convenience store. Meanwhile, in what international observers see as a red flag, Iran places an ad on Craigslist stating, “WE PAY CASH FOR NUCLEAR BOMB MATERIALS.”

In sports, a little-known athlete named Jeremy Lin scores numerous points in a professional basketball game despite having graduated from Harvard. Instantly, he becomes a bigger international star than all of the Kardashians combined. His image appears everywhere — on TV, magazine covers, T-shirts, etc. — and for a brief period, he is the leading contender for the Republican presidential nomination. Then, suddenly — Poof! — he vanishes without a trace. Looking back on it, we’re not 100 percent sure that “Jeremy Lin” ever really existed.

In other sports news, Indianapolis, shedding its “hick town” image, shows that it is truly a world-class city as it hosts Super Bowl XLVI, in which the Giants seal a dramatic 21-17 victory when Ahmad Bradshaw, with 57 seconds left, reaches the end zone by vaulting over a cow that wandered onto the field.
Speaking of dramatic, in ...

March
... the endless slog for the Republican presidential nomination reaches “Super Tuesday,” with voters going to the polls in 12 states, including New Hampshire and South Carolina, which have already held primaries but can no longer remember whom they voted for. It is now clear that Romney has won the nomination, but Gingrich vows to continue his campaign, lurching gamely onward despite the tranquilizer darts fired into his neck by his own advisers.

In Florida, the shooting death of Trayvon Martin sets off a passionate, weeks-long national debate among politicians, journalists, pundits, talk-show hosts, activists, celebrities, bloggers, anti-gun groups, pro-gun groups, Al Sharpton and millions of ordinary citizens, not a single one of whom knows what actually happened.


In Europe, the economic crisis continues to worsen as the government of Greece, desperate for revenue, is forced to lease the Parthenon to Hooters. Meanwhile Moody’s Investors Service officially downgrades the credit rating of Spain to “putrid” after an audit reveals that the national treasury consists entirely of Groupons.

In the Middle East, tensions rise between the United States and Pakistan after an unmanned Predator drone destroys the only working toilet in Waziristan.

In sports, the National Football League imposes stiff penalties on the New Orleans Saints following the shocking revelation that some Saints players might have deliberately committed acts of violence against opposing players for monetary gain, which is of course totally contrary to the spirit of professional football. Commissioner Roger Goodell states that the NFL is also investigating disturbing allegations that players sometimes deliberately knock their opponents to the ground via a violent tactic known as “tackling.”

The scandals continue in ...

April
... when the U.S. Secret Service acknowledges that agents sent to Colombia to provide security for President Obama at the Summit of the Americas allegedly engaged in some unauthorized summiting, if you catch our drift. The agents are immediately recalled to the United States and reassigned to former President Clinton.

Abroad, a closely watched attempt by North Korea to test a long-range rocket capable of carrying a nuclear warhead ends in an embarrassing failure when, moments before the scheduled launch, the rocket is eaten by North Korean citizens.

Meanwhile in Waziristan, tensions continue to mount when an al-Qaeda safe house is destroyed by an unmanned Predator drone missile that apparently gained access by pretending to deliver a pizza.
In finance, Moody’s downgrades Spain’s credit rating from “putrid” to “rancid” when the Spanish government, attempting to write a check, is unable to produce a valid photo ID. Meanwhile the Greek parliament, meeting in an emergency session on the worsening economic crisis, votes to give heroin a try.

In domestic business news, Facebook, a company with a business model that nobody really understands, spends $1 billion to buy Instagram, another company with a business model that nobody really understands. Since everybody involved is about 19 years old, Wall Street concludes this must be a good idea.

In golf, Bubba Watsonwins a dramatic Masters tournament in a sudden-death playoff when Louis Oosthuizen, attempting a putt on the par-4 10th hole, suddenly dies, thereby incurring a three-stroke penalty. Elsewhere in sports, NFL Commissioner Goodell vows to investigate reports that some members of the New Orleans Saints have, during games, deliberately called opposing players bad names, which Goodell notes “could cause low self-esteem.”

On a sad note, beloved entertainer Dick Clark passes away, although he will continue to host his popular New Year’s Eve special.

Speaking of sad, in ...

May
... Newt Gingrich finally suspends his presidential campaign, despite an emotional plea to keep fighting

from his base of supporters, namely Mrs. and Mrs. Elrod Pomfurter of Oklahoma City, who, after months of deliberation, had just invested in a bumper sticker.
In other political news, President Obama, who supported same-sex marriage when he ran for the Illinois Senate in 1996 but opposed it when he ran for the U.S. Senate in 2004, clarifies his evolving position, which is that he once again fully supports same-sex marriage, for now. Mitt Romney reaffirms his long-standing position on the issue, which is that he is in favor of sex during marriage, but only at night.

Voters in the French presidential election, rejecting the austerity program of incumbent Nicolas Sarkozy, choose, as their new leader, Charlie Sheen. In other European economic crisis news, Greece, seeing a way out of its financial woes, invests all of its remaining money in the initial public offering of Facebook stock, which immediately drops faster than Snooki’s underpants.
 
In sports, Usain Bolt, running in his final tuneup race before the Olympics, wins the Kentucky Derby.
New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, having dealt with all of the city’s other concerns — disaster preparation, for example — turns his attention to the lone remaining problem facing New Yorkers: soft drinks. For far too long, these uncontrolled beverages have roamed the city in vicious large-container packs, forcing innocent people to drink them and become obese. Mayor Bloomberg’s plan would prohibit the sale of soft drinks in containers larger than 16 ounces, thereby making it impossible to consume larger quantities, unless of course somebody bought two containers, but the mayor is confident that nobody except him would ever be smart enough to think of that.
Another major health-related story breaks in ...

June
... when the U.S. Supreme Court, handing down its much-anticipated ruling on Obamacare, decides by a 5 to 4 vote that the Affordable Care Act is constitutional. Moments after the decision is announced, the justices discover that, because of a clerical error, the document they have spent the past three months reviewing is actually the transmission-repair manual for a 1997 Hyundai Sonata. By a 9 to 0 vote, they decide to say nothing more about this.

In other domestic news, San Francisco, not wishing to be outdone by New York in the field of caring about the public welfare, bans beverage containers altogether, requiring restaurants to serve soft drinks by pouring them directly into their customers’ mouths.

Abroad, England celebrates the 60-year reign of Queen Elizabeth II with a massive Diamond Jubilee blowout bash lasting several days, at the end of which members of the royal family are found wandering around naked as far away as Croatia. Also many of the Crown Jewels are covered with what appears to be Vaseline.

In the worsening European economic crisis, Greece announces a new bailout plan that hinges on persuading Germany to buy what Prime Minister Lucas Papademos describes as “a buttload of Tupperware.”

Tensions in Waziristan mount still higher amid reports that an unmanned Predator drone missile has been roaming the province engaging in unprotected sex.

In sports, major league baseball fans are treated to an unusual spate of no-hitters, all thrown by Usain Bolt. Roger Goodell announces that the NFL is investigating disturbing allegations that some members of the New Orleans Saints do not sing during the national anthem.

July
... the Mexican presidential election — won by Enrique Peña Nieto of the wonderfully named Institutional Revolutionary Party — is tainted by allegations of voting fraud after independent observers note that the “optical scanners” used to count ballots are in fact Sunbeam toasters. Mexican election officials conduct a recount and conclude that Peña Nieto has indeed won the election fair and square, as well as the election that will take place in 2018.

In Moscow, three members of the Russian all-woman punk-rock group Pussy Riot go on trial for engaging in an anti-government protest. Their cause is adopted by a variety of concerned organizations, including Amnesty International and the U.S. Secret Service.

A tragic fatal drama plays out on the streets of New York City, where police officers fire 183 bullets into a man who, according to witnesses, was about to take a sip from a Big Gulp, which he apparently obtained in New Jersey. The shooting is defended by Mayor Bloomberg, who notes that if the officers had not acted quickly, the man “could have placed himself in very real danger of becoming obese.”
In science news, a group of physicists announces that, after decades of research costing billions of dollars, they believe they have confirmed the existence of the Higgs boson, which according to them is an extremely exciting tiny invisible thing next to which all the other bosons pale by comparison. This is breathlessly reported as major news by journalists who majored in English and whose knowledge of science is derived exclusively from making baking-soda volcanoes in third grade. Back in the lab, the physicists enjoy a hearty scientific laugh, then resume the important work of thinking up names for exciting new invisible things they can announce the discovery of.

In London, the Olympics get under way with a spectacular opening ceremony, climaxing in the dramatic lighting of the Olympic torch by an unmanned Predator drone, which also takes out the entire Pakistani team. The only glitch in the ceremony occurs when a streaker runs onto the track and passes out. He is identified by police as Prince Philip, still in Diamond Jubilee mode.
The partying continues in ...

August
... when Hurricane Isaac fails to dampen the mood in Tampa at the wild and crazy spontaneous wacky funfest that is the Republican National Convention. The Republicans — eager to disprove the stereotype that they are the party of old, out-of-touch rich white men — give their highest-visibility prime-time TV spot to: Clint Eastwood. Clint wows the delegates by delivering a series of fascinating sentence fragments to a chair that he either does or does not realize has nobody sitting on it.
In other convention highlights, the Republicans declare their support for the Middle Class and pass a platform calling on the nation to get the hell off their lawn.

Tensions continue to rise in the Middle East when Iran unveils a new surface-to-surface ballistic missile named “Conqueror,” which, according to an Iranian spokesman, will be used for “agriculture.” Elsewhere in the troubled region, an unmanned Predator drone hacks Waziristan’s Twitter account and posts pictures of itself naked.
In the European economic crisis, an increasingly desperate Greece offers to have sex with Germany.
Closer to home, suspicions that the Mexican military may be involved with drug trafficking are heightened when a U.S. surveillance satellite photographs a Mexican army convoy transporting what appears to be a 200-foot doobie.

In space news, NASA scientists cheer as the Curiosity Mars rover, which was launched from Cape Canaveral in November 2011, finally makes a safe landing. The cheers quickly fade, however, when an analysis of images transmitted back by Curiosity indicate that because of a glitch in the navigational software — which coincidentally is the same type used in the soon-to-be-released iPhone 5 — the Rover has actually landed in Waco, Tex.

In sports, Usain Boltdominates the London Olympics, picking up gold medals in three sprint events and winning a world record eight seats in the House of Lords. Great Britain’s team ignites a national celebration of patriotism, winning medals in many events, including rowing, paddling, pedaling, croquet, darts, skiffles, whist, the pudding toss, the 50-meter lawn rake and the men’s umbrella furl.
Speaking of celebrating, in ...

September
... the Democrats gather in Charlotte, N.C., for their convention, during which they declare their near-carnal passion for the Middle Class and celebrate the many major achievements of the Obama administration, including the killing of Osama bin Laden, solar energy, the winning of the War on Terror by killing Osama bin Laden, the Chevy Volt, bold presidential leadership in the form of making the difficult decision to order the killing of Osama bin Laden, wind power, and many, many other major things that the administration has achieved, such as killing Osama bin Laden. The Democrats acknowledge that the economy is not totally 100 percent “there” yet, but promise to continue moving steadfastly forward with their relentless attacks on the root cause of economic stagnation and continued high unemployment, namely, George W. Bush.

Abroad, the big story is a deadly 9/11 attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya. It soon becomes apparent that the attack either was or was not a spontaneous protest to a movie that either does or does not actually exist, or possibly it was an organized terrorist attack that either did or did not involve al-Qaeda and either could or could not have been prevented if there had been better intelligence, which maybe there was, or maybe there was not, although if there was, it was not acted on, possibly for political reasons. Or not. But beyond these basic facts, little is clear. The White House issues a strong statement assuring the nation that President Obama was not in any way involved in this, “or anything else that may or may not become known.”

In European economic news, Greece abandons the euro in favor of a new currency, the gyro, which is backed by some kind of grayish meat.

In labor news, Chicago teachers go on strike over controversial proposed contract changes that would allow the school board to terminate teachers who have passed away. Meanwhile, the NFL comes under increasing pressure to settle the referee strike following a game between the San Francisco 49ers and the Tennessee Titans in which the replacement refs call four balks and three traveling violations, and ultimately declare that the winner is the Green Bay Packers. At the end of the month the strike is settled, and the replacement refs move on to their new role as Florida elections officials.
In other sports labor action, the National Hockey League locks out its players, lending credence to rumors that there is still a National Hockey League.

In space news, NASA scientists remotely analyze a soil sample collected by the Curiosity Waco rover and report that it contains “an alarmingly high level of spit.”

Apple releases the much-anticipated iPhone 5, which receives some criticism for its glitchy map software and the fact that it uses a different connector from all the other iPhones and iPhone accessories. Also, it can neither make nor receive telephone calls. Nevertheless it is a big hit with Apple fans, who line up to buy it even as they eagerly anticipate the forthcoming iPhone 5S, which, rumor has it, will require 3-D glasses.

Speaking of criticism, in ...

October
... President Obama is widely faulted for his performance in the first presidential debate, during which he appears moody and detached, several times stopping in mid-answer to go outside to smoke a cigarette. The debate moderator, veteran PBS newsman Jim Lehrer, at first seems a bit overwhelmed by the task, but after a few minutes he falls asleep. This leaves the field wide open for a confident and assertive Mitt Romney, who, in a span of 90 minutes, manages to explain his five-point economic-recovery plan a total of 37 times, running up an indoor record presidential-debate score of 185 points. Romney also demonstrates his understanding of the issues facing ordinary Americans by promising to cut federal funding for Big Bird.

Stung by the defeat, Obama closets himself with his advisers, who coach him on debating techniques such as smiling, pretending to listen and forming complete sentences without a teleprompter. Obama is much more aggressive in the next two debates, at one point pulling out his BlackBerry on-camera and ordering a missile strike against Syria.

In the vice presidential debate, Joe Biden gives Paul Ryan a noogie.

With polls showing a very tight race, the final weeks of the campaign are a textbook example of what this great experiment called “American democracy” is all about: two opposing political parties, each with valid positions, spending hundreds of millions of dollars on comically simplistic radio and TV ads designed by consultants to terrify ill-informed half-wits.

But the month’s big story is “superstorm” Sandy, which devastates a large swath of the Northeast despite the courageous efforts of hundreds of TV news reporters standing on the beaches telling people to stay off the beaches. New York City is hit hard, but Mayor Bloomberg responds swiftly, ordering police to arrest anybody suspected of taking advantage of the disaster by consuming soft drinks from containers larger than 16 ounces, which could potentially cause them to become obese.
Fidel Castro, for what is believed to be the 17th time in the past eight years, dies.

In the month’s most inspiring story, Austrian daredevil Felix Baumgartner jumps from the Red Bull Stratos helium balloon 24 miles high and breaks the sound barrier in free fall, reaching a speed of 834 mph and thrilling a worldwide broadcast audience before being shot down by a Predator drone sponsored by Monster, a competing energy drink.

In entertainment news, Walt Disney purchases Lucasfilm and releases a trailer for the forthcoming “Star Wars Episode VII,” in which Darth Vader is a talking penguin.

Speaking of surprises, in ...

November
... after an election cycle in which an estimated $6 billion was spent on races for the presidency and Congress, the American voters — who by every account are disgusted with Washington and desperately want change — vote to keep everything pretty much the same. President Obama wins all the key battleground states except Florida, where, after a week of ballot-counting delays caused by denture adhesive in the scanners, election officials finally announce that the state’s 29 electoral votes will be awarded to the Kansas City Chiefs.

With the election finally over and the federal government headed toward a “fiscal cliff” that could plunge the nation back into a recession, Congress, realizing the urgency of the situation, rolls up its sleeves and gets on with the crucial job of remaining gridlocked, while President Obama heads for Burma, a vital U.S. strategic partner located somewhere abroad.

In other election developments, voters in Colorado and Washington approve the legalization of recreational marijuana use, and also order $257 million worth of delivery pizzas.

Speaking of nutrition: A bankruptcy court grants Hostess Brands permission to close its business, posing a serious threat to the nation’s strategic Twinkie supply. Fortunately, an agreement is worked out under which Twinkies will be produced by a new entity. Unfortunately, that entity is: Iran.
In other disturbing national security news, David Petraeus, director of the Central Intelligence Agency and retired four-star general, is embroiled in scandal for engaging in unauthorized covert action with his official biographer, Paula Broadwell, who, according to the FBI, sent threatening e-mails to Tampa social event planner Jill Kelley concerning both Petraeus and four-star general John Allen, who, while serving as U.S. commander in Afghanistan, found the time to exchange more than 20,000 pages worth of communications with Kelley, which means that either they were e-mailing a Stephen King novel to each other, or they were planning some kind of social event, if you catch our drift. Petraeus resigns and is immediately placed in charge of the U.S. Secret Service. The White House issues a statement assuring the nation that President Obama knew nothing about any of this and was “unaware of the existence of any so-called Central Intelligence Agency.”

In the World Series, a team with a payroll $65 million lower than that of the Yankees is defeated by a team with a payroll $80 million lower than that of the Yankees, leading to the inescapable conclusion that the Yankees need a bigger payroll.

Toward the end of the month, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is dispatched on an urgent mission to try to bring peace to one of the world’s most troubled spots: the Moultrie, Ga., Walmart, where mobs of crazed Black Friday shoppers are viciously assaulting each other over discounted cellphones. Clinton soon realizes the futility of her mission and heads for the Middle East, where people are more reasonable.

Speaking of troubled, in ...

December
... there is much fiscal-cliff drama in Washington as Congress and the White House — after months of engaging in cynical posturing and political gamesmanship while putting off hard decisions about a dangerous crisis that everyone knew was coming — finally get serious about working together to come up with a way to appear to take decisive action without actually solving anything.

On a brighter note: Two months after superstorm Sandy ravaged New York, electrical power is finally restored to all areas of the city. It is immediately turned back off by order of Mayor Bloomberg, on the grounds that electricity can be used to watch television, which the mayor notes is a leading cause of obesity. In retaliation, the San Francisco City Council bans molecules, noting that they are “a key ingredient in sugar.”

Speaking of consumer danger: In the largest product recall ever, the Food and Drug Administration orders supermarkets to pull 148 million of the new Iranian-made Twinkies off the shelves after one of them explodes, obliterating most of Cleveland.

In science news, physicists announce that they think they might have discovered a totally new tiny invisible particle, named the “Weems foomple,” which the scientists say could be even more important than the Higgs boson, although to be absolutely certain that it truly exists they say they are going to need, quote, “billions more research dollars,” as well as “a large boat.”

On a more troubling note, NASA scientists announce that their analysis of data transmitted back to Houston by the Curiosity Waco rover shows conclusively that Earth is uninhabitable.

As the year finally draws to close, a festive crowd gathers in Times Square for the traditional New Year’s Eve illuminated ball drop, counting down the seconds and cheering the magical moment when, at the stroke of midnight, the ball is destroyed by an unmanned Predator drone. This seems to be a bad omen. Yet, as 2013 dawns, there is hope that maybe, just maybe, the new year will be better; that this will be the year when we finally break the cycle of perpetual idiocy, the year when, at long last, we find a way to ...

WHAP.

Dave Barry can be reached at wpmagazine@washpost.com.

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“Sun Storm” Airs on Discovery Channel Tonight, Dec. 30


Your host, staring into the Sun.
Still from Discovery Channel's "Sun Storm". Filming this scene was very difficult on my skin.
Image credit: Discovery Communications/Big Wave Productions


I’m fascinated by the Sun. As an astronomer, I love the idea of being able to study a star up close, where we can watch it in high-resolution and on both short and long time scales (also, I appreciate being able to observe it during the day rather than having to stay up all night).

As a human, I know it’s the source of light and heat for our planet, and is a key to life itself.
But it’s a star, with all that implies: It’s massive, energetic, and prone to throwing the occasional hissy fit. And when it does, the scale is awe-inspiring.

All of this is why I’m excited to let you know that I’m hosting the Discovery Channel TV show “Sun Storm” for their series “Curiosity”. The show airs tonight, Sunday, December 30, at 9:00 p.m. Eastern time (check your local listings, etc. etc.), and is all about how the Sun makes its tremendous energy, and how that sometimes comes in the form of epic solar tantrums flung out into space.


A second clip is also online, too. A couple of reviews are up as well; one on Evil Scientist and another on TV By The Numbers.

Solar storms are a concern of mine; while they can’t hurt us directly on Earth (sorry, folks, you won’t turn into the Incredible Hulk after a big flare), they can damage satellites and, more worrisomely, cause massive power outages. The details are complicated, but essentially a big solar storm can launch billions of tons of subatomic particles toward Earth. These interact with our planet’s magnetic field, which in turn can create massive currents of electricity that surge into our power grid. If the effect is large enough it can overpower the grid, causing transformers to blow and creating widespread power outages. This happened in March 1989 in Quebec, and a big storm could do more damage.

While this threat isn't necessarily immediate, it’s something our governments and power companies should be taking very seriously. I took it seriously enough to write about it in my book Death from the Skies! (note: affiliate link). And I know a lot of solar astronomers who fret about it as well. When I wrote the Sun chapter, I took pains to create a good balance between talking about the dangers without being overly alarming. I think “Sun Storm” also strikes this balance (which can be harder for a TV show, since the addition of high-res CGI visuals makes it more visceral).

Solar storms are a real problem, and my hope is that bringing attention to it will raise awareness and make it an issue people take seriously. There are ways to avoid the worst of the damage; for example, by adding more capacity to our power grid, which right now is carrying about as much current as it can (which is why induced currents are bad; they overload the wires). Another is to for power companies to invest in things like building more transformers to replace those blown by an overload, and also to investigate other technologies that can reduce the problem of induced currents induced by solar storms.

Solar storms and asteroid impacts are the only two realistic threats that come from space that have any real chance of doing damage to humanity and our civilization. But the good news is that they are also the two we can actually mitigate. We just have to choose to do so. It will take time and cost a lot of money, of course, but if we wait until after a big storm, the cost could be much higher.

All of this and more will be discussed on “Sun Storm”. I hope you watch it, and I hope you enjoy it!

[Update: In this article I had originally referred to the name of the show as "Solar Storms", which I have fixed. When we were filming it, the show had the temporary title of "The Sun" and in my notes I had written down "Solar Storms" as a final title. However, in the end neither was used. My apologies for any confusion. Including my own!]

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Best Photos of 2012 taken by Darren Calabrese

Darren Calabrese | Dec 29, 2012 7:00 AM ET | Last Updated: Dec 29, 2012 7:01 AM ET
More from Darren Calabrese
Darren Calabrese/National Post
Darren Calabrese/National Post    Family and friends mourn while laying flowers at the scene of a horrific traffic accident that left 11 dead in Hampstead, Ont. Tuesday, February 7, 2012. 11 people in total were killed, including 10 migrant workers, after a flatbed truck slammed into a passenger van west of Kitchener, Ont., in the province’s worst traffic accident in more than 20 years.
     
National Post’s photographer Darren Calabrese displays a selection of his best photographs for 2012.

Darren Calabrese/National Post
Darren Calabrese/National Post   Two women mourn after laying flowers at the scene of a horrific 
traffic accident that left 11 dead in Hampstead, Ont. Tuesday, February 7, 2012. 11 people in total 
were killed, including 10 migrant workers, after a flatbed truck slammed into a passenger van west 
of Kitchener, Ont., in the province’s worst traffic accident in more than 20 years.
Darren Calabrese/National Post
Darren Calabrese/National Post    Shannon Longshaw reacts at the scene a shooting in Toronto 
Tuesday morning, July 17, 2012 that left two people dead and 23 others wounded. Longshow, 
who helped organize the party where the shooting occurred, tried to help Shyanne Charles, 14, 
the young girl who was fatally shot. 
 
Darren Calabrese/National Post
Darren Calabrese/National Post    Stephen, a malnourished nine-week-old infant weighing only 3.7 
pounds and suffering from severe dehydration, is cared for by a nurse from the NGO Watoto after the 
infant's mother passed away from complications after birth in Kampala, Uganda. Although maternal 
mortality rates have dropped by nearly half worldwide since 1990, according to the World Health 
Organization, over 800 mothers die every day from preventable causes related to childbirth - with 
over half of these deaths occurring in Sub-Saharan Africa. 
 
Darren Calabrese/National Post
Darren Calabrese/National PostA labourer navigates wooden scaffolding erected for the construction
of a new modern 9-story building in downtown Kampala, Uganda. Africa's economy has slowly been 
on the rise and according to projections by the International Monetary Fund (IMF), on average Africa 
will have the world's fastest growing economy of any continent over the next five years. 
 
Darren Calabrese/National Post
Darren Calabrese/National PostFish market manager "John John" auctions off freshly caught Nile perch,
tilapia, and mud fish at the Gaba Landing Site on Lake Victoria, Uganda. Over 30,000 tonnes of fish 
are shipped out of country annually, making it Uganda's highest earning non-agricultural export next to 
coffee. 
 
Darren Calabrese/National Post
Darren Calabrese/National Post     A young girl stands between traffic while begging for money as the 
 Moammar Gadaffi mosque stands at the end of Kyagwe Road in downtown Kampala, Uganda. 
According to UNICEF, Uganda has an estimated 10,000 street children, many of whom, are forced 
to migrate from more northern regions as a result of deceased parents, drought, poverty, or food 
 insecurity in the region. 
 
Darren Calabrese/National Post
Darren Calabrese/National Post    Canadian Cree artist, activist, and author Buffy Sainte-Marie poses 
in Toronto Monday, October 15, 2012.
 
Darren Calabrese/National Post
Darren Calabrese/National Post    Pop star Adam Lambert poses in Toronto Tuesday, May 29, 2012.
 
Darren Calabrese/National Post
Darren Calabrese/National Post    A young girl is lit by the console light of a SUV while watching a 
double bill-showing of "The Amazing Spiderman" and "Men In Black III" at the Port Hope drive-in 
movie theatre in Port Hope, Ont. Friday, July 6, 2012.
 
Darren Calabrese/National Post
Darren Calabrese/National Post    Elvis tribute artists prepare backstage before competing for the 
championship of the Toronto Elvis Festival in Toronto on Sunday, April 22, 2012. During the 
three-day festival, 48 Elvis tribute artists competed for cash, trophies, and entry into the Ultimate 
Elvis Tribute Artist Contest at Graceland in Memphis, TN.
 
Darren Calabrese/National Post
Darren Calabrese/National PostToronto Argonauts' Chad Owens, left, tries to break the tackle of a 
leaping Edmonton Eskimos' Rod Williams during CFL Eastern Conference semi-final action at the 
Rogers Centre in Toronto, ON Sunday, November 11, 2012.
 
Darren Calabrese/National Post
Darren Calabrese/National Post   The Toronto Argonauts' Jeff Keeping, centre, hoists the Grey Cup  
while celebrating with teammates following the Argos' victory over the Calgary Stampeders at the 
100th Grey Cup at Rogers Centre in Toronto on Sunday, November 25, 2012.
 
Darren Calabrese/National Post
Darren Calabrese/National Post    Female boxer Diana Tulyanabo wraps her hands before training 
at the Richno Boxing Club in the Makerere Katanga slum in Kampala, Uganda Saturday, June 30, 
2012. 
 
Darren Calabrese/National Post
Darren Calabrese/National Post    Diana Tulyanabo, right, wearing a shirt displaying the face of 
Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni, holds a defensive stance as fellow female boxer Lydia Nantale 
is reflected in a motorcycle's mirror while training at the Richno Boxing Club in the Makerere 
Katanga slum in Kampala, Uganda Saturday, June 30, 2012. 
 
Darren Calabrese/National Post
Darren Calabrese/National Post  Female boxers Lydia Nantale, left, and Hellen Baleke shadow 
box on used tires while training at the Richno Boxing Club in the Makerere Katanga slum in 
 Kampala, Uganda Saturday, June 30, 2012.
 
Darren Calabrese/National Post
Darren Calabrese/National Post    Female boxer Hellen Baleke, left, spars with coach Innocent Kapalata
 as boxers Lydia Nantale and Diana Tulyanabo wait their turn at the Richno Boxing Club in the
 Makerere Katanga slum in Kampala, Uganda Saturday, June 30, 2012.
 
Darren Calabrese/National Post
Darren Calabrese/National Post   Female boxer and single mother of four children Maureen 
Nakilyowa poses at the Richno Boxing Club in the Makerere Katanga slum in Kampala, 
Uganda Saturday, June 30, 2012.

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