Sunday, January 8, 2012

2011 - The Year in Review

NOTE:  This post is rated R for mild strong language.


After a long year of blogging I find myself facing the “year in review” post. If you don’t love the “year in review” format, you should:  this is how, if you’ve been ignoring world news for the last year, you can quickly come up to speed on the highlights.

You might well ask, “Who is this random blogger to be deciding what news events were most important?”  Well, I did spend last year basing my blog posts on the most important current events throughout the world.  If this statement makes you chuckle, read on because you may enjoy my rhetorical game of trying to make this outlandish statement seem reasonable.


The big news of January was of course the senseless shooting of nineteen people in Tucson.  I’m not going to make light of this or try to be funny because that would obviously be tasteless.  (Don’t worry, the rest of this post won’t be such a downer.)

During this month I wrote about a very strange dream I had about being shot.  Do you suppose guns show up in Americans’ dreams more than those of other cultures, where guns aren’t so readily available?  In other  words, what is the impact on our collective subconscious of knowing people around us could be armed?  (I actually did have a gun pulled on me once, by a complete stranger.)

We Americans take the ubiquity of guns for granted, so it amazes me that other developed countries are virtually gun-free.  In the “New Yorker” this week, America’s self-proclaimed “top cop” said, “The firearm problem in England is almost laughable in the sense of how small it is.  The gangs [there], I would describe as, basically, wannabes.”  In the same issue, a reporter interviews a Japanese policeman who deals with the “yakuza,” the Japanese organized crime syndicate:  “When I asked if he’d ever fired his gun, he said that he hadn’t even used his nightstick.”


Needless to say, the biggest news of February was the unveiling of “The Daily,” a British newspaper from Rupert Murdoch that is only available in the US and only for the iPad.  It goes without saying that when historians take the long view of 21st-century society, they will divide it into two epochs:  pre-Daily-for-iPad, and post.  About the only recent innovation that comes close to ushering in such sweeping societal change is the Segway.

What was Murdoch thinking?  How many Americans both a) want a British newspaper, and b) have an iPad?  I’m not trying to say the iPad isn’t popular, but compared to a regular computer?  (When I look at pageview stats for this blog, I see that less than 1% were from iPads.)  Perhaps Murdoch was just distracted by all the illegal wiretapping he and his staff were embroiled in.

Meanwhile, traditional printed newspapers offer so much:  the ability to line a birdcage; the ability to wrap fish; the ability to protect fragile plates and glasses when you’re packing up to move; even a way to keep your head somewhat dry when it’s raining and you’ve forgotten your umbrella.  Murdoch’s overblown excitement about electronic publishing ties in nicely with my February post “Death of a Bookstore” in which I describe why I want to hate the Kindle and why I think bookstores won’t go extinct.


I was really torn as to what was the biggest news for March:  the tsunami in Japan, or the big iPhone flap.  So I decided to let Google decide:  I typed “tsunami” into the search field and the first related search it gave me was “tsunami sushi sf.”  So I guess in the big scheme of things what happens in Japan, stays in Japan.

Which brings us to the other big news which is of course the iPhone glitch that caused the clocks on these phones to be turned back an hour instead of forward to adjust for Daylight Saving Time.  This meant users’ phone clocks were actually two hours off, and one user nearly missed yoga class.

If only people paid more attention to my blog!  In March I was all over Daylight Saving Time; embedded in my post is the simple solution to the problem, adopted by Russia, which is to abolish DST altogether.  (Russia’s abandonment of DST made the news in March, too, but unless you subscribe to the Moscow Times you won’t be able to read this article about it.  For a charming video on this decision, click here).


The big news in April was the speech given by British prime minister David Cameron in which he suggested that immigrants should learn English.  The Guardian story on this topic is an odd read, because it was published before the actual speech, and is written in the future tense:  “The prime minister will open his speech by saying,” and “Cameron will say,” and “The prime minister will stride into sensitive political territory when he accuses  …” and so forth.

My mention just now of the future tense, and my use of “read” as a noun, might have made some readers squirm.  Yes, such usage does beg the question, “Is it reasonable to require anybody to learn English as a second language, given how tricky a language English is?”  Also begging this question is my April post, “The Trouble with English.”  Actually, my post doesn’t beg the question, it simply poses the question.  Rhetorically.  And then answers it.  The phrase “begging the question” is exactly the sort of idiomatic expression that makes this language so difficult, though of course idioms are only the beginning of the problem.  Perhaps if Cameron had read my post, he’d have been more sensitive.  (No, of course that’s not true.)


In May I posted a rant against imbeciles who, in the name of journalism, cheat at sport and write about it.  The May issue of “Outside” magazine had a particularly annoying article by Andrew Tillin, an arrogant shitweasel who jacked himself up on testosterone so he could rider faster in meaningless 45+ races and think grand thoughts like “Take that, you motherfuckers.  There’s more.”  Except there isn’t, because despite cheating he still ended up in only 17th place because he doesn’t know what the hell he’s doing.  Then he actually makes money by writing a book about it.

Of course, I couldn’t just berate Tillin and his ilk without providing an alternative to their so-called journalism, so I did my own experiment where I donated two units of red blood cells to a blood bank, thus giving myself an athletic impediment roughly equivalent to the advantage gained by blood-boosting or using EPO.  I studied my performance decline closely and (unlike the doping journalists) provided a detailed, objective report with lots of charts and graphs, free, to my albertnet readers.

What I couldn’t have guessed when I posted that was how timely my post would be.  Later that month, Tyler Hamilton went on “60 Minutes” and admitted that he’d doped throughout his career, and claiming he saw Lance Armstrong use drugs as well.  This bombshell spawned all kinds of articles including this one.  The most remarkable development, though, is how mainstream this news topic has become.  Armstrong’s doping allegations were featured twice this month in “The Onion,” a mainstream online magazine not known for covering cycling.  Check out this feature and this one.


The big world news in June, of course, was of the deployment of troops in Yemen by the son of its injured and evacuated president, Ahmed Ali Saleh.  I won’t bore you with the details since you know them already, but I couldn’t help but to notice what a great Father’s Day gesture this was.  I mean, to deploy troops in the streets of the capital on Dad’s behalf… it’s really amazing.

I did my best to honor my own father with a Father’s Day post, but fondly recalling how he’d bawl out the cat or deny the family TV privileges just doesn’t hold a candle to stepping up and commanding a military.  I’d like to do more for my dad but I can’t.  It’s just how I was raised.


Of course July will be remembered for Australian Cadel Evans’ magnificent victory in the Tour de France, and more specifically, for the astonishing turn of events that transpired at the final victory ceremony, where Australian pop star Tina Arena sang the Australian national anthem.  As famously reported in Velo News, Evans remarked, “I was a bit surprised that Tina Arena came out to sing the anthem, that was very nice of her. … to stand on the Champs-Élysées with an Australian singing the national anthem … it’s not a dream that comes true for many Australians.”  Such humility in a true champion … I mean, Tina Arena? Are you kidding me?

As an American, though, I couldn’t help but wince when I read that news.  Of course I have no problem with my countrymen failing to win the Tour; it’s just that the national anthem of the U.S., which has been sung ten times at the Tour de France, is so fricking lousy.  When, earlier in the month, I posted an extended harangue against our anthem, I neglected to compare it to other anthems, such as Australia’s.  The Australian anthem is actually quite good; its clunkiest lyric, “Our home is girt by sea,” is far less embarrassing than the great number of bombastic and silly lines that disgrace the U.S. anthem like so much graffiti.


Needless to say, the big news this month was that Scotland finally took steps to combat its obesity problem.  (You’d think, with all the movies and TV shows the U.S. exports over there, that the Scots would have gotten the hint a lot earlier.  Is our world leadership waning?)  Suffice to say, the world rejoiced at the announcement that leading retailers in Scotland had pledged to take measures against obesity, such as displaying fruits and vegetables more prominently.

In an amazing coincidence (or did I get an advance tip?), during this same month I wrote not one but two posts about the food of Scotland:  this one and this one.  Oddly, I didn’t gain weight in Scotland, though I enjoyed all kinds of hearty fare, such as haggis (a mixture of the minced heart, lungs, and liver of a sheep or calf mixed with suet, onions, oatmeal, and seasonings and boiled in the stomach of the slaughtered animal) and the famous Full Scottish Breakfast, consisting of a tattie scone (greasy), hash-brown cartridge (greasy and salty), bacon (‘nuff said), a large sausage lozenge called Lorne sausage (greasy, salty, generally alarming), and blood pudding (a chewy, mulchy little disk of congealed, salty pig’s blood).  That breakfast aside, I really liked the Scottish food, and I hope the retailers don’t change it too much.


In September, albertnet focused on cycling:  the US Pro Challenge, an epic ride I did in Colorado, and my food-heavy account of the Everest Challenge bike race.  I will now confess that I’d hoped one of these stories would win me the Ig Nobel prize for literature.  Alas, I didn’t even get a nomination.

Of course, I was up against some pretty stiff competition, as you’ll know if you followed the news on this subject.  The winner in the chemistry category had invented a wasabi-based fire alarm; another award was given for research on whether people make better decisions when they have a strong urge to urinate.  In the literature category the winning entry was the “Theory of Structured Procrastination.” I guess I can’t compete with that.  I was frankly stunned when this article won the prize, though, because I really didn’t think its author would ever finish writing it.


This month brought me more disappointment:  I posted two fiction pieces to albertnet, and neither of them won the Man Booker Prize.  (I realize the prize is only for writers from the British Commonwealth and Ireland, but I’m still disappointed.)  The second of my stories, “Before the Fall,” was hailed as a “heart-wrenching but also darkly funny tour de force” by … nobody!  So I lost out to the novel The Sense of an Ending, by Julian Barnes.

Of course you’ll recall the scandal this prize caused this month, when the head judge described the novel as “readable.”  Whether this infuriated elite readers because it’s not sufficient grounds for awarding the prize, or whether it infuriated them because great literature isn’t supposed to be readable, is unclear to me.  In a Guardian article about the award, the winner brushed off the scandal, remarking, “Most great books are readable.”  I guess some obvious exceptions would be Ulysses and Gravity’s Rainbow.  (No, I haven’t read either of those.  How could I?  They’re unreadable!)

Barnes himself couldn’t help but praise his own prize-winning book, though in an oddly humble way:  “Those of you who have seen my book … will probably agree it is a beautiful object. And if the physical book, as we’ve come to call it, is to resist the challenge of the eBook, it has to look like something worth buying, worth keeping.”  So now I have four reasons to go buy The Sense of an Ending:  1) it won the Man Booker prize; 2) it is said to be readable; 3) it is a beautiful object; and 4) as I’ve said before, I want printed books to survive.


My most popular (or shall I say least un-popular) post for this month was “The British Faucet Conundrum.” So far it’s had  123 hits; one person #1’D it (whatever that means); one person flagged it as “Funny”; and it elicited two reader comments, only one of which was from a member of my family.  I’m happy to see it getting read, but at the same time I’m disappointed in the poor response (34 hits, no responses) to another post from November, “Spotting Bad Restaurants,” which I think is a very useful guide.  I provide a number of simple ways to recognize a bad place before it’s too late to leave.  If nothing else this could save you a number of rushed trips to the bathroom later.

Perhaps my restaurant post could have been researched better.  (Of course it could have, my research budget for this blog being ZERO.)  I missed a major criterion of a good restaurant, that being “Is it kid-friendly?”  If the big restaurant news for this month had hit sooner, my post would have been more complete.  I’m referring, of course, to the major revelation that a restaurant in London had started charging moms a “baby tax.”  As you know, they didn’t get away with it, and published an apology on their website stating “this is an isolated incident” and “we will be in contact with Natasha Young and Anna Sheridan with a personal apology for their mistreatment by our staff.”  Um ... unless the two moms dined together, wouldn’t that be two isolated incidents? 

Semantics aside, I have to believe the “baby tax” problem was related to the poor performance of individual restaurant staffers, not the policy of the restaurant’s home office.  Staffing problems are widely acknowledged among restaurants in the UK; one place I went to even admitted to it, right on the menu:


Okay, I’ll come right out and admit it:  I didn’t follow the news at all in December.  I was laid up at home all month with a broken femur, as I blogged about here, here, and here.  Pretty much the only major world news I read about was Lewis’s comeback.  What, you didn’t follow the story about Craig Lewis, the American pro cyclist who broke his femur during the Giro d’Italia back in May?  I suppose you were too engrossed in the doping allegations against Lance Armstrong to be following the athletes who are actually still racing.  Anyway, Lewis crashed in the Giro and broke his femur, and struggled to get back to racing, and eventually needed a bone graft because his leg wasn’t healing right.  I’ll be keeping a close eye on him next month to see how he does.  You should, too.


Well, so much for 2011.  I hope your 2012, and mine, are (even) better.  I’m so glad you made it to the end of this post.  Dare I hope this post ascended to the pinnacle of literary achievement, Readability?
dana albert blog

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