NOTE: This post is rated R for mild strong language.
There was an awful lot of news in 2012. In my opinion, far too much—I’m actually kind of relieved I won’t be getting “Newsweek” anymore. (I canceled because they’ve gone to an online-only format, but would have probably canceled anyway because they started running cigarette ads, which for me is automatic grounds for a lifetime boycott.)
If, like me, you did a halfhearted job of staying on top of all the news last year, you’re in luck: in this annual post I recap the most important stories, and as a special bonus show how I’d actually already covered them in an easily-digested and (I hope) humorous way in the pages of albertnet. As usual, I’ve had to stretch here and there to make this work, and there’s a fair chance that you’ll giggle at one or two of my gyrations.
Of course the really exciting story for January was the sinking of the huge cruise ship Costa Concordia, and the subsequent arrest of the captain, who abandoned ship early on. It came out that he’d crashed it in the process of showing off, taking the ship in close to shore as a salute to some pals there. Not surprisingly, he’d been drinking. But not only that, he’d been drinking wine, and with a beautiful woman! Every article I saw emphasized these things. The Guardian wrote, “The captain who steered his 114,000-tonne vessel into rocks off the Italian coast last Friday was drinking wine at dinner with a ‘beautiful’ woman minutes earlier, a witness has claimed.” The Daily Beast wrote that a “passenger told an Italian newspaper that Schettino had been drinking with an attractive blonde at 8:35 the night of the accident.”
Wine and fancy women … what could be more unbecoming for a ship captain to indulge in? I have a strong feeling that he’d have gotten off easier if his drinking had been, instead, a couple cold beers with some guy friends. Plus, he’d possibly have had more luck modulating his intake. My “Ask Dr. Beer” post in January, which ran two days after the wreck for maximum timeliness, was designed to suggest all this without, I hoped, alienating the wine-loving readers of albertnet. I all but openly scolded the Concordia captain: “Ads for good booze always say, ‘Those who appreciate quality enjoy it responsibly.’ That’s a good start, but why should people who can’t appreciate quality be let off the hook? They should behave responsibly, too!”
The important and exciting news event in February was “The Artist” winning the Oscar for Best Picture, and being the first silent film to win since 1927. It’s important to acknowledge that “silent film” is really a misnomer, because “The Artist” also won the Oscar for best score. To demonstrate my uncanny ability to predict the Oscar winner, two weeks in advance, I blogged at length about another “silent film” that should have won Oscars in these two categories. Surely you already know what movie I’m referring to, and caught the sly reference right away when you saw my pre-Oscar post last year. What? You’re lost? I’m referring, of course, to my two February posts about the movie “Pink Floyd The Wall” (here and here).
Maybe you haven’t seen that movie in a long time (in which case it’s time to find out which of your pals has the best home theater and go rent the DVD), and you don’t immediately recall that it’s a dialog-free movie. Well, it is. The main character, Pink (Bob Geldof) does have one line, but this line is the exception that proves the rule. In fact, he manages to flub it. What the audience hears—“Take that, fuckers!”—is not what his lips say, which is “Next time, fuckers!” Maybe this glitch is what cost this fine movie the Oscars it so richly deserved. (Best Picture that year went to “Ghandi”—yawn—and Best Adaptation Score went to “Victor/Victoria”—like anybody remembers a single note of that movie’s music.)
I’m sure I don’t need to remind you of the big news in March, that being the long-awaited explanation of how waves and other ocean features can actually glow at night. “National Geographic Daily News” broke the story here. The article states, “The biological light, or bioluminescence, in the waves is the product of marine microbes called phytoplankton—and now scientists think they know how some of these life-forms create their brilliant blue glow.”
I paid tribute to this wonderful finding with my “Earth Hour” post. Granted, it was a subtle tribute—Ididn’t lean too heavily on the light pollution angle, for fear of diluting my more important message about energy conservation (and the only slightly less important stuff about a three-pound gummy worm, Earth Hour haters, and grizzlies mating with polar bears).
In April the business world was taken by surprise when Facebook paid a billion dollars for Instagram, a tiny company valued at only half that much. As reported in the New York Times, Zuckerberg declared, “Now, we’ll be able to work even more closely with the Instagram team to also offer the best experiences for sharing beautiful mobile photos with people based on your interests.”
Do you reckon Zuckerberg was talking about photos of brilliant bioluminescent seascapes? Yeah, right. More likely this acquisition was simply the fastest way to drive up sexting traffic. (Remember Google’s motto, “Don’t be evil?” Perhaps Facebook’s should be, “Be evil.”)
I’m glad my daughters are too young for Facebook and Instagram. The rapper Nas describes being shocked by his own daughter’s being caught up in this: “This morning I got a call, nearly split my wig. This social network said Nas go and get your kid. She’s on Twitter, I know she ain’t gon’ post no pic of herself underdressed, no inappropriate shit, right. Her mother cried when she answered. Said she don’t know what got inside this child’s mind, she planted a box of condoms on her dresser then she Instagrammed it.”
If you’re thinking I should lighten up about social networks and teens, then I invite you to check out my April blog post “Dopamine, Parenting, and Social Media.” I’m not as well-spoken as Nas, but I gave my best shot at explaining why teenagers really shouldn’t be on Facebook and Twitter.
Big news—and welcome news, in my opinion—hit in May when Mayor Bloomberg proposed banning soft drinks in serving sizes greater than 16 ounces (click here for details). As reported by the Washington Post, a spokesman for the American Beverage Association responded, “The city is not going to address the obesity problem by attacking soda, because soda is not driving the obesity rate.” This certainly has an NRA-esque whiff of BS about it … he might as well say, “Sugary drinks don’t make people fat—fat makes people fat!” McDonald’s tweeted, “We trust our customers to make the choices that are best for them.” Yeah, McDonald’s, that’s been working out really well.
Perhaps it seems hypocritical for me to condemn sources of empty calories, because I devoted an entire blog post in May to describing my desperate quest for sugary substances. I lamented, “The giant handful of gels I’d hastily grabbed somehow numbered only two. I had two bottles of energy drink but no mix. By the time I reached the ranger’s station on Diablo I’d gone through 1 2/3 bottles of the drink and both gels.” I went on to describe my salvation in the form of free frozen green tea gelato: “It tasted like lotion, that expensive lotion you get at spas. Frankly I didn’t care for it whatsoever except it was free, it had 140 calories, and as I said before I had no plan for feeding myself.” There’s no hypocrisy here though: like all distance athletes, I represent a special case. Someday I’m going to write an entire post about why buying soft drinks should require a special license.
There was an important Supreme Court ruling in June, but it didn’t get much press; halfway through the year people must have already been tired of serious news. ABC News came to the rescue with a classic fluff piece about Bon Jovi launching a new line of pasta sauces. That was the headline, anyway. In actuality, it wasn’t the singer who launched the product, but his father, whose name isn’t really Bon Jovi. Both father and son are actually named Bongiovi, which is a great name for a pasta sauce but perhaps not the best for a rock star. So, to recap: a rock singer who is not named Bon Jovi didn’t launch a pasta sauce, but his non-famous father did.
Naturally you'll wonder why I didn't include anything about this in my June advice column, “Ask Dr. Pasta.” Well, it’s because nobody wrote in to ask about it! What? You thought I made up all those questions? You think “Ask Dr. Pasta,” and “Ask Dr. Beer” before it, were fake advice columns? You think there’s no such person as Chip M of Boston, MA or Lawrence H of Greensboro, NC? Well ... you’re right. But if Bon Jovi isn’t really Bon Jovi, can’t I cut some corners too?
Needless to say, the biggest story of the year came out in July: the discovery—or possible discovery—of the Higgs boson. The importance of this scientific achievement cannot be overstated. In fact, it cannot be understated, or even stated, unless you’re a rock star of the scientific world. After reading several accounts of this discovery by very enthusiastic writers with great flair for confusing the reader, I’ve decided this Higgs boson thing should be nicknamed “the Emperor’s new particle.” (The most helpful reference I found on this is here, though the “American Voices” feature in “The Onion” was also helpful, with a woman on the street declaring, “Yeah, the Higgs boson is getting a lot of attention, but there are a lot of lower-profile bosons that are worth checking out if you get the chance.”)
Perhaps most noteworthy thing I can point out about the Higgs boson was that it was just about the only thing that is universally acknowledged to be “a thing” that I didn’t mention in my July “Deliverance and Cycling Tioga Pass” post, a sprawling epic docucomedventurdrama covering such diverse topics as camping, cycling, logical fallacies, missing receipts, Mono Lake, Vladimir Nabokov, paranoia, RVs, Sir Thomas Wyatt the Elder, Tioga Pass, the undistributed middle, and Yosemite National Park. And yet, to those who actually understand boson particles, this post, upon careful reading, turns out to be a masterpiece of understatement and subtle insinuation. The story is, in fact, thoroughly flooded with between-the-lines illumination of the true nature of the Higgs boson. If anybody ever creates the literary equivalent of the CERN particle accelerator, I will finally enjoy the sterling reputation I have so long deserved.
The most exciting news in August was the Curiosity rover landing on Mars. This wouldn’t be such a big deal if the rover were simply a remote-controlled vehicle. The really cool thing is that it will be able to think for itself when it gets its next software update, as described here.
Speaking of thinking for yourself, I hope I don’t need to point out the obvious tie-in between this rover news and my three-part albertnet series on Artificial Intelligence that ran in August and September (click here, here, and here). Naturally, being more interested in Earth than Mars, I focused my investigation on real-world—as in, our real-world—applications, such as whether you can speak into your iPhone and have it transcribe the text. As I noted in my post, the iPhone does just well enough to be dangerous: “I need to make some videos about the iPhone 4S” comes out “I need to make some videos about the iPhone 4 ass.” I hope the Curiosity rover does better.
I know that I could drive lots of traffic to this blog by focusing on a really splashy news item for this month—namely, the release of the iPhone 5—but I’m not going to take the bait. I also won’t pretend that the “Gangnam Style” Youtube video was actually important news. (I’m hoping that using the phrases “iPhone 5” and “Gangham Style Youtube” twice each will be enough to get me a lot of pageviews.) Well-informed people worldwide know that the big news this month was the groundbreaking BYU study finding that exercise can reduce the urgeto eat.
It’s kind of a shame this article beat me to the press (by just one day!) and thus my own article, “Nutrition for Endurance Cycling,” didn’t cause as great a sensation. Echoing the BYU article, in my nutrition post I lament the lack of appetite I have right after a long bike ride, when eating is important: “For about half an hour after hard exercise, sugar taken in goes directly into replacing muscle glycogen instead of being absorbed the normal way. In other words, you’ll recover more quickly if you consume carbs during this ‘glycogen window.’ So, right after my ride, during which I drank a whole gallon of energy drink, guess what I get to do? Have some juice, maybe some sweetened yogurt, a few Girl Scout cookies." Yuck.
This month brought another toss-up for top news story: Hurricane Sandy, or Felix Baumgartner parachuting from space? Two things have swayed me to choose the latter. First, Hurricane Sandy was downgraded from a full hurricane to a “super-storm,” which has the hackneyed sound of a Wal Mart promotional slogan. Second, hurricanes are becoming so routine now, they'll eventually cease to make the news at all, along with senseless school shootings. But parachuting from space? That’s a totally new one.
Did albertnet cover Baumgartner’s exploit? Well, not exactly, but it covered a similarly daring and/or foolish challenge that I myself took on. What’s that? You don’t remember it? Well, didn’t I do something difficult involving altitude? Didn’t I too fall to earth, albeit metaphorically, like a modern day Icarus? Didn’t I too fuel myself with Red Bull? (Okay, in my case it was sugar and caffeine from Cytomax and NoDoz, respectively, but we’re still talking about the core components of Red Bull.) The main difference between my adventure and Baumgartner’s is that his looked really amazing though it came off without a hitch, while mine would have looked pretty boring and yet went horribly. Oh, yeah: and my brain, not Baumgartner’s, was a thin porridge by the end. Check out this post if you don’t believe me.
Am I a man? Well, my kids, when asked this question, usually say something like “Not really—you’re just a big daddy guy.” It’s safe to say, however, that I’m a male, because I can’t see the forest for the trees, or however that goes. To wit, I failed to notice an important post-election news story concerning a novel solution to the problem of leftover campaign signs. A guy up in the Pacific Northwest recycles them, turning them into bicycle accessories: “Peterson occasionally holds workshops in the art, demonstrating how he reuses the corrugated plastic material that’s used for lots of front yard-type political signs. He cuts the sheets with a sharp craft knife or scissors into desired shapes and then stitches pieces together with nylon cable ties. On some items, he uses a more sophisticated technique involving scoring the plastic and folding it.”
This is almost as good as not having election signs in the first place, a desire I expounded upon in detail that month.
The big news I was waiting for in December is more notable for almost not being reported at all. I’m talking of course about the outcome of the Novartis drug recall I blogged about last month. Several drugs—Excedrin, Gas-X, and my precious NoDoz among them—were recalled by Novartis a year ago because quality control problems in the factory were resulting in broken tablets and, worse, prescription drugs such as Percocet getting mixed up with over-the-counter remedies.
Novartis finally did get its act together, but the media barely covered this. I searched this evening on “excedrin recall” and got just five Google News hits. Four of them were unrelated to this topic (e.g., “Female Orgasm: Serving an Evolutionary Function?”), but one—exactly one—covered the return of Excedrin to the shelves. This was the Patch.com site for Hazelwood, MO. Its editor wrote, “When Hazelwood Patch announced the recall, the article quickly became one of our most viewed articles.” I think it’s worth noting that this article didn’t mention Gas-X or NoDoz. I guess Hazelwood citizens are an alert, non-gassy people who mainly get a lot of headaches. A quick look at its home page offers, I think, some insight into why. The main headlines for today: “Elderly Woman Robbed at Gunpoint and Carjacked, Assailant Captured in North County”; “Man Breaks In[to] Hazelwood Pet Store”; and, “Ask the Patch Pro: Seeking Gun Safety Experts.” Other articles on the homepage include “Gun Brought to Mall” and “Mugs in the News: The Faces That Made This Week’s Crime Headlines.” All this really makes me appreciate my relatively peaceful community. If our local Patch had covered the Novartis recall at all, they’d probably have focused on Gas-X, given the popularity of legumes and vegan fare here.
If you made it to the end of this lengthy post, I think the rest of your 2013 will be gravy! And if you’re reading this long, long after the year 2012, I hope this recap gave you a good sense of what life was like in that difficult, exciting, tedious year.