As years go, 2011 has been quite newsworthy. Before we move on to the next year, we ought to remember some of the highlights of the year gone by.
Here is my collection of personally interesting Top Ten news items. So, strictly speaking, it's not Ten. But this was a bigger year than most. So I had to include them all.
- Fukushima: The nuclear reactor meltdown in Fukushima, Japan. As big as Chernobyl, but better contained.
- The Arab Spring: - social uprisings in Egypt, Libya, and Syria fueled by Twitter, Facebook, and other Internet extensions.
- Osama bin Laden: Oopsie! We meant to extract him and bring him to international justice. Those Navy SEALs got a bit overexcited. Double tapped and then splashed. AMF.
- The death of Kim Jong Il: The little tyrant of North Korea, who couldn't do anything himself if he hadn't had a father who had been the previous ruler, died at age 68. In true tyrannic fashion, he starved his own people while he himself lived an opulent life. His country was as Orwellian as any dictatorship in my memory. Doublespeak was never so well instantiated has it is in modern day North Korea.
- The death of Muammar Qadaffi: The quirky dictator of a shitty little North African country wore military clothes with epaulets and surrounded himself with blonde female bodyguards. His family stashed hundreds of millions of dollars overseas while impoverishing his people, descendents of the old Barbary pirates.
- The death of Steve Jobs: The genius who ran Apple Computer died of pancreatic cancer. He brought us the Macintosh computer, the Ridley-Scott directed 1984 ad, the GUI interface, the iPod, the iPhone and the iPad. He created NeXT computers and he transformed Pixar. His genius was making high tech gadgets operate simply, intuitively. He kept the technically elite Morlock designers far away from the unsophisticated Eloi users, and they loved him for it.
- The death of Christopher Hitchens: My hero. The atheist who made it attractive to think. A raconteur in every sense of the word, and a beacon for all who hate the perniciousness of religion.
- Troops Out of Iraq: President Barack Obama kept to his word and ended American military involvement in Iraq.
- The Republican Party Fragments and Becomes Impotent: The Tea Party's absurd demands to pull the G.O.P. platform toward an extreme reactionary position act as a tidal force that split the Republican part into fragments and lose the cohesiveness that had been there since the Reagan years. This may be an ephemeral moment. Republicans are nothing if not able to congeal back together again, like the Terminator made of liquid metal in Terminator 2, when things get rough. And they'll get very rough for the upcoming presidential election.
- The End of the Shuttle Program: The last Space Shuttle flew and landed, ending 30 years of Shuttle space activity. We felt the loss acutely as our own Custodian fed us minute by minute updates on the final Shuttle launch and offered us running commentary on the significance to the U.S. space program.
- Occupy Wall Street: A fuzzy minded movement having no sharp philosophical point, it showed a diffuse rage at the One Percenters who were allowed to keep their privileged positions in the economic world, despite their bringing the American economy to the brink of bankruptcy.
- The Collapse of the Greek Economy: The limits of European Union tolerance was shown as the Greek economy was brought to a grinding halt because of massive debts which the country would never be able to pay off. Is Spain far behind? Will the EU dissolve? Stay tuned!
- The Tentative Announcement of the Higgs Boson: In mid-December, Rolf Heuer, director of CERN, announced that a Higgs boson had not been found! In physics doublespeak, this translated into the following: "We have only a 95% likelihood that a particle like the Higgs is there." They really won't declare the Higgs boson to truly exist until they have statistics on the order of 99.99%, and have ascertained many of its physical properties, like spin, decay channels, etc. CERN's particle accelerator is being upgraded over the winter to double collision energies from 7 tera-electron-volts (TeV)
to 14. (As Nigel would say, "You see, this collider goes to eleven.") Then they'll bang protons together again and get way more statistics for Higgs. And then... who knows? But I swear to god, if they have one more "We're announcing that there isn't an announcement" seminar, I'm going to go over there with a Louisville Slugger and kick some Europhysics ass. YOU'VE BEEN WARNED.
- FTL Neutrinos: Who knew? The physicists at CERN (THEM again!) were creating neutrinos and sending them 733 km underground to the huge neutrino detector at Gran Sasso, and finding that the neutrinos arrived 60 nanoseconds faster than the speed of light in a vacuum. At which point the physicists were like WTF? Then they checked and rechecked their assumptions, equipment setup, couldn't find anything wrong, and then did what any responsible scientist should do: publish their results. They knew they were going to get criticized. They knew they were going to create a firestorm of controversy. And, the worst thing of all, they knew they were going to have to talk to the press, which, let's face it, are a bunch of idiots. They knew this was going to happen, and yet they did it anyway. Because that is what responsible scientists do. To my mind, these guys were the heroes of the year.
Oh and PLUS! I've managed to remain unemployed all year. That's kind of exciting, isn't it?