This is part two of the series “2011 Year in Review: The Good, the Bad, and the Ridiculous.” These are the things that were bad, but didn’t quite make the ridiculous list. (In many cases, though, they were close.)
Japan’s Handling of Fukushima
The tsunami that hit Japan in March of 2011 was bad - really bad. Nearly 16,000 people lost their lives because of it, and estimates on the damage it caused was over $200B. The enormity* alone would have been enough to land it on this list. However, the nuclear angle of the tsunami sent it right to the top.
Initially, the Japanese government declared a state of emergency. Then, they said that they had everything under control, and did not need to take any further steps. Some people familiar with reactors were not comfortable with this, and sadly, they were proved correct. The government of Japan admitted, little by little, how dire the situation was, which ended up with a complete meltdown of three reactors, and several hydrogen explosions. The contamination was likened to Chernobyl; thankfully, that disaster has not produced the ill effects that were forecasted for it. Hopefully we will see the same at Fukushima.
While there is no guarantee that any other nations’ aid could have prevented these meltdowns, it underscores the need for honesty and transparency in government, particularly during times of disaster. Thankfully, the myriad armchair nuclear scientists have moved on to other pursuits, and Japan has cleanup well underway. However, the effects of this disaster will be felt for many years to come.
On January 8th, 2011, Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ) was holding a constituent meeting in Tucson when she was shot at point-blank range. The shooter then turned and sprayed bullets into the crowd, killing several people. Miraculously, Rep. Giffords survived the shot, though she spent the majority of 2011 in the hospital or in rehab facilities. As the year closed, she was nearly ready to resume her regular schedule in Congress. While she was in the hospital, her husband flew on one of the final Space Shuttle missions. The shooting was bad, but her recovery has been one of the good news stories of 2011.
The man who shot her was a troubled individual, an anarchist who believed in “nothing” according to his friends. However, this did not stop the rush-to-judgment speculation of many media members. The first meme was that this was a deranged right-wing lunatic, acting out a map produced by Sarah Palin’s PAC in 2010. This map showed vulnerable seats with a cross-hair icon; of course this was the dog-whistle for the loonies to assassinate Democrats! Well, when that fell though, they still stuck with the right-wing narrative, until finally recanting when it was clear that this was not the case. Their rush to judgment gave us a window into their hearts, and what we saw was not pretty. (It also wasn’t news to many of us; just confirmation.)
Finally, many used her shooting to condemn the “violent” rhetoric (AKA firearms metaphors) that had become a part of the political system. This civility proved to be short-lived, and gave rise to the #NewTone Twitter hashtag, used by conservatives to retweet some of the vitriol directed at them.
These reactions illustrate the value of freedom of speech. Should these people have reacted the way they did? Of course not. But, without free speech, we wouldn’t know who the moonbats are. There are “journalists” who I simply will not patronize based on their behavior during this terrible tragedy.
US Credit Downgrade
In August, Standard and Poor’s downgraded the credit rating of the United States from AAA to AA. They did this in response to the failure of our country to address our looming deficits. When you look at our economic policies from 2006 forward, including 2009 being the last year with a Senate-passed budget, it’s hard to fault them for doing so. Our nation is ignoring the signs that tell us we should change; this year, the debt eclipsed our annual GDP. We cannot continue to spend money we do not have, while ignoring debt we have already accrued. Austerity is probably not going to get anyone elected, but it’s what we need; the world economy is no better than ours, so we cannot base our recovery on exports to other nations. We should position ourselves to ride out this contraction, so we will be ready to take advantage of the next expansion.
The Cain Train Derailed
I was on the Cain Train. I really liked Herman Cain’s plans for our nation. He was not a Washington insider, he has proven results with taking indentured businesses, making them live within their means, and growing them. His 9-9-9 plan attacked the sacred cow of tax code, proposing a much more fair solution. I wrote about him at length. However, as he rose in the polls, women began coming forward claiming sexual harassment and inappropriate behavior. These were bad, and he sadly put himself in the position of being vulnerable to those claims. His response, through his lawyer, was even worse; it sounded like something out of the Clinton administration.
Character matters. Even if every one of these claims were false, his inability or refusal to deny them outright gave us pause. A legal response that it was none of our business sounded fishy. Learning that he gave these women money unbeknownst to his wife just made me hang my head. Now, I realize that this comparison I’m about to make isn’t really apples to apples, but bear with me. When the Bible lists qualifications of a pastor, two of them are “husband of one wife” and “manages his own house well.” The first is important because fidelity to one’s spouse is an indication of fidelity to the rest of what they claim to believe, and the lack of it the same. The second lets us know that this person can work with people with whom they are close without letting them dissuade him from doing what it right. We’re not electing a pastor - I get that; the character required, however, is very similar. Mr. Cain did not manage his own house, could not refute these charges, and thus was drummed out of the race for Barack Obama’s job.
While there were plenty of bad things that happened, we can generally learn from them. May we learn, and not repeat 2011’s mistakes in 2012.
p.s. Intentionally left off this list is the Jerry Sandusky / Penn State scandal. Such unspeakable horror - may anywhere else this may exist be exposed, and the perpetrators be punished to the full extent of the law, and then some.
* Word nerd tip - “enormity” is not a synonym for “size,” but carries a negative connotation as well; in other words, it’s not just big, it’s big and bad. Its use here is appropriate; its common use elsewhere usually is not.
This is the first (or last, depending on how you’re reading these) entry in the series “2011 Year in Review: The Good, the Bad, and the Ridiculous.” 2011 may go down in history as one of the craziest yet. It’ll be tough to narrow it down to just a few things to keep this at a reasonable length - but, we’ll try.
Occupy Wall Street
For me, this was an easy pick. This movement, starting in the fall and continuing in some cities to this day, stands for… well, that’s part of it. They claimed inspiration from the Arab Spring, but had the minor detail that they weren’t under an oppressive regime. They boldly proclaimed that they were the 99% of income earners, railing against the income inequality between themselves and the top 1%. The phrase “I am the 99%” became one of their rallying cries. The main problem with the movement, however, was the absolute lack of a goal. What did they hope to accomplish? A list was posted online, but then others said that this list was not right. I addressed some of the issues surrounding that in my #OWS, Educate Thyself series, so I won’t re-hash that here.
Some claimed that this was the liberal’s response to the conservative Tea Party movement of 2010. However, their rap sheet grew rapidly, including rape, homicide, public indecency, and disturbing the peace. Public health concerns grew over these encampments, evidenced by a tuberculosis outbreak in Atlanta and “Zucotti Lung” among New York’s occupiers. This was no Tea Party. As some within the group tried to organize, others worked against organization, which led to confusion all around.
Then the time came to evict these protesters, which led to even more ridiculousness. Some mayors were more adamant than others, and some even spoke against their own police forces. Pepper spray flew in many cities, and on the campus of the University of California Davis. Occupiers in Portland are trying to shut down ports. As winter sets in, many of the camps have closed, but the aimless angst continues. The needed conversations regarding ridiculous executive compensation and police tactics will likely be drowned out by the shouting.
The Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA)
This is a late-breaking entry, but it still happened in 2011. This bill gives the US Government the right to redirect Domain Name Service (DNS) entries for sites that host or participate in software piracy to a different site, similar to the ICE domain seizures that have been happening for a while now. There are many problems with this idea (which may sound good to some, on the surface). First, this breaks the DNS system, particularly the upcoming DNS Secure (DNSSec) protocol, which aims to prevent the DNS cache poisoning attacks that are becoming quite prevalent. Secondly, the concept of seizing an entire domain over suspected (not proven) activity circumvents due process; many large sites are approaching common-carrier status, and apart from DMCA take-down notices, aren’t able to police or censor their content. It completely misses the point of how the Internet works. Creating a system like this just invites abuse, which is ironic, considering the law purports to be trying to fight it.
The main forces behind this legislation are the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) and the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), two organizations who have shown themselves clueless as to how the Internet works time and time again. This brings in the biggest problem of all. This is the equivalent of the horse-and-buggy lobby writing laws against cars, to ensure their continued existence. There were many fine buggy crafstmen, I’m sure, who were put out of work by these new horseless carriages. Those craftsmen who chose to adapt and learn new skills were successful; those who sat on the sidelines were not.
The RIAA and MPAA have fought tooth and nail against technology for decades. (Anyone remember DAT?) They are slow to adapt. It was said that FM radio was going to kill record sales, because people wouldn’t buy them when they could hear the music for free. The cassette recorder would kill album sales, because people could record music themselves. The VCR would kill movie sales, because people could record movies from TV, cable, and LaserDiscs. They’ve proved themselves on the wrong side of technology at nearly every turn, and they’re wrong here. Their current efforts are doing two things - frustrating people like Tom Merritt (Update: Google+ is gone, and so is the link), who want to comply with the law, and encouraging piracy.
Back in 2008, a young girl named Caylee Anthony disappeared in Florida. Her mom reported her missing, and a half a year later, her remains were found. Through the police investigation, the clues they found all pointed toward one conclusion - her mother Casey had killed her and hidden her body. I won’t recount all the details for that - you can see them at that link. It’s not ridiculous, it’s just sad.
The ridiculous parts of this, though, were plentiful. The first was the “Trial of the Century” hype; this was, to some extent, a self-fulfilling prophecy. The media should cover the story, they should not be the story. The trial should have been covered, but the circus that was the trial was absolutely ridiculous. The second was Casey’s behavior. Her daughter is dead, she knows about it (according to her testimony), yet she’s out partying like there’s no tomorrow. Even if that were her regular M.O., I can assure you that if one of my children is missing, I wouldn’t be occupying my usual schedule. The third was her defense - Caylee died in the pool, and she was too scared to call the police, instead dumping the child’s body and instigating a huge manhunt for this child. Really? And her parents supported her in these claims! The fourth was the verdict - not guilty. There was so much wrong with this case, even if there wasn’t enough for capital murder, there were lesser charges that were also found not guilty.
The narrative is drama-filled, Casey is an attractive young lady, so this story is probably not done. I wish it were. I hesitated on putting her on this list, because attention to people like this only encourages them.
This seemed to be the year when many folks found out how Twitter works the hard way. Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-NY) tweeted a picture of his (let’s just say “namesake”) to a follower. Instead of using a direct message, which is private, he simply typed an @ symbol followed by the follower’s name, which is public to whoever views his timeline. He claimed to have been hacked; these claims were refuted, and he admitted to sending the message, as well as to many indiscretions against his newly-pregnant wife. He resigned his seat in the wake of this.
Other celebrities had trouble with the filter that’s supposed to sit between the texting fingers and the brain. Gilbert Gottfried tweeted jokes about the Japanese tsunami, and was dropped as the voice of the AFLAC duck. Ashton Kutcher tweeted his support of Penn State’s Joe Paterno in the wake of Paterno’s firing, which he later clarified once he learned the reasons behind. Alec Baldwin explored a New York mayoral run via Twitter, and ended up canceling his account after being booted from an airline flight for failing to turn off his iPad. His reason? Words with Friends. And, early in the year, Twitter was one of the places where Charlie Sheen’s epic breakdown unfolded, giving birth to the hashtag #WINNING.
As with all of these reviews, this is nowhere close to an exhaustive list; but, that’ll do. Some of these are ongoing; we’ll hope and pray that if they make next year’s list, it’ll be on the good list due to their dissolution.