Recalling the 2012 That the Headlines Ignored or Overlooked
“The United States was founded by the brightest people in the country,” Gore Vidal once wrote, “and we haven’t seen them since.”
The literary wit had little regard for election politics, remarking that “every four years the naive half who vote are encouraged to believe that if we can elect a really nice man or woman President everything will be all right.”
Sparing the great man of words the discomfort of having to endure the mud-slinging and nastiness that came with the fall general election campaign, Death mercifully took Vidal in July.
It didn’t, however, spare the rest of us.
Responding to knocks that her husband is too stiff, First Lady-wannabe Ann Romney: “We better unzip him and let the real Mitt Romney out.” Or perhaps, and disappointingly – considering the “47%” remark and other gaffes – that was the real him. No thank you, replied the nation. Keep him zipped up, we’ll take another four years.
Mitt might have asked them to “self deport”: A survey said that 65% of Americans felt Obama would handle an alien invasion better than Romney. Number of times more often that “Paul Ryan shirtless” was Googled than “Paul Ryan budget”: 9. Maybe he didn’t want anybody Googling shirtless photos of him: Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, when asked if Romney had reached out to him about being his running mate: “If I thought that call was coming, I would disconnect the phone.”
Banned by the city of Tampa in August, to curb protests during the GOP convention there: air rifles, BB guns, paintball guns, nunchucks, pipes, super soakers, water cannons, rope, wire, chain, gas masks, face coverings, glass bottles. Not prohibited: guns (Gov. Rick Scott nixed a ban on them).
At one point in the year, Obama’s Texas approval rating: 43%. Gov. Rick Perry’s: 40%. Romney twitter followers before July 21: an average of 3,500. On July 21: a gain of 93,000, prompting speculation that his campaign bought them. Guess this means they’ll never host another: Denver’s altitude was blamed as a possible cause for the president’s lackluster performance in the first debate.
And you thought the year-long run-up to it was nasty? Try the post-election aftermath: Incensed that her husband neglected to vote, an Arizona woman ran him over with her car. Students at Ole Miss burned Obama campaign signs. And petitions to secede from the republic were filed in all 50 states. When Texans threatened to split from the U.S., some Austinites vowed to split from Texas. One wonders if there weren’t Austin honky-tonk bar and gas station owners with Tea Party loyalties pondering splitting from Austin if it were to split from Texas, if Texas were to split from the U.S.
“Show me a guy who won’t compromise,” said the always jocular and wise-cracking co-chair of the Simpson-Bowles fiscal reform commission, former senator Alan Simpson, “and I’ll show you a guy with rock for brains.” Measured accordingly, Congress would seem to be overrun by a bunch of hard-headed cretins. And this is what your do-little 112th assemblage of cretins managed to pass in its two years: just 132 laws, a fifth of which concerned new post office names.
“I think grandiose thoughts,” declared Newt Gingrich in a GOP presidential debate. One of those thoughts was the establishment of a moon colony by decade’s end. This would not have been a manpower problem for NASA, which received 3,372 applications for its astronaut class, the most since 1978. India’s prime minister, two weeks after his rudimentarily-infrastructured country suffered the largest power blackout in human history, announced a solution: a mission to the Red Planet. “This spaceship to Mars will be a huge step for us in the area of science and technology.” How does one say “misplaced priorities” in Hindu?
When Ohio legislators targeted women’s contraception, Nina Turner retaliated. Her bill mandated that men consult a sex therapist before being prescribed Viagra. “Women should not need a permission slip from government to take care of their own reproductive health,” declared she. In an interview marking his 70th, physicist Stephen Hawking was asked what does he think most about during the day: “Women. They are a complete mystery.” To disgraced former IMF head Dominique Strauss-Kahn, they are “baggage,” “gifts,” and “luggage,” according to text messages in which he described the women who attended wild sex parties he hosted. Maternity in the fraternity: Yahoo’s CEO Marissa Mayer is believed to be the first woman to head a Fortune 500 firm while pregnant.
You’ve come a long way, baby, but still have miles to go, sadly: Swedish furniture seller IKEA eliminated women from photos in catalogs shipped to Saudi Arabia. The Taliban shot and wounded a 14-year-old Pakistani girl, a poster child for female education. Refusing to break with their Catholic nation’s abortion ban, doctors denied a 31-year-old dentist a potentially life-saving abortion after she went to a Galway hospital complaining of severe back pain. She died.
“We know we were sloppy. We know we were stupid. We know there was bad judgment,” admitted J. P. Morgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon. An estimated $6 billion worth of bad judgment. Hedge funder Carl Icahn gave $3 billion to his son to practice his investing skills. After their company filed for bankruptcy, Hostess executives were awarded $1.8 million in bonuses. “Let them eat Twinkies,” one can almost hear them snicker, Marie Antoinette-style, from their corporate castle at the masses down below. Only they were the ones that made the Twinkies. What alternative would they have us eat now?
Discouraging news: 24% of Wall Street executives say that to be successful in finance, illegal or unethical conduct may be necessary. It also helps to be richly compensated: Simon Property Group’s CEO was the highest-paid CEO of a public company. In 2012, he took home $137 million, or $44,000 per hour.
But the good guys sometimes win: For blowing the whistle on UBS Bank’s tax evasion scheme, Bradley Birkinfeld was awarded $104 million by the IRS. And proving that not all venture capitalists are rogues, Michael Moritz donated $116 million to Oxford U. to benefit disadvantaged students. “I wouldn’t be here today were it not for the generosity of strangers.” Did you catch that, you 24 percent?
“I’m a CHAMPION!!” tweeted Lebron James after the Heat’s title-clenching victory over Oklahoma City. “I AM a CHAMPION!!” Yes, you are. But no longer are you, Lance Armstrong. Collect what’s left of your dignity and beat it. After a player was ejected from a tournament for cheating came this observation: “We’re one step away from drug testing.” That from the executive director. Of the National Scrabble Association.
Uber-model Gisele Bundchen, on her husband Tom Brady’s 21-17 Super Bowl loss to the New York Giants: “My husband cannot f—ing throw the ball and catch the ball at the same time.” The New Orleans Saints were anything but saintly: one Saint admitted that his team had run a bounty system, paying players to injure opponents. The U.S. soccer team’s record versus Mexico? 0-23. In 2012, the losing streak was finally snapped.
“The ocean is in the road,” exclaimed a Long Branch, N.J., resident, expressing what many other Atlantic coast inhabitants found in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. Fort Lauderdale Beach residents could say the same after a part of A1A was swallowed.
And if Sandy wasn’t enough to convince the climate change deniers, there’s this news: 50% of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef has vanished in the past three decades, partly due to higher ocean temperatures. Local temperature records in the U.S. tied or broken in March, when average temps were 8.6°F above normal: 15,000.
Now for the annual roll call of dictators: Syria’s Assad, alive but struggling. Russia’s Putin, re-elected and reenergized. Venezuela’s Chavez, re-elected but may be dying. Cuba’s Fidel Castro, still alive despite periodic rumors to the contrary.
It must be pretty bad when even an ex-U.N. head and Nobel peace laureate can’t make a difference: Kofi Annan, deciding the task was too gargantuan for him, gave up on negotiating an end to the violence in Syria, but not without cautioning thugtator Assad, “you can’t turn the wind, so turn the sail.” “I would not look to the U.S. Constitution if I were drafting a constitution in the year 2012” was the advice to Egypt from U.S. Supreme Court justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Instead, she recommended South Africa’s as a model embracing human rights.
The populations of European debtor countries like Greece and Spain may not care much for her austerity sermons, but they ought to heed Angela Merkel’s words: “Not spending more than you collect – it’s astonishing that this simple fact leads to such debates.” We Americans may want to take heed, too. “To create the country that we want, someone has to sacrifice,” said the wife of an imprisoned Ethiopian journalist jailed for opposing government censorship. We Americans may want to take heed, too.
A new day for the political prisoner: Chen Guangcheng, a blind dissident, was permitted to leave China for the U.S. Who’d have thought it possible? Nobel peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi’s party won 43 of 45 parliamentary seats in Myanmar. Her home there was her prison until just two years ago. This year, she hosted a president of the United States there. Who’d have thought it possible?
Number of Syrians believed to have fled their homes because of the fighting: 2.5 million. Number of condoms distributed at the African National Congress’s centenary celebration that got recalled because of defects: 1.35 million. Number of new Baskin-Robbins and Dunkin’ Donuts stores opening in China, featuring pork donuts endorsed by Miami’s own Lebron James: 100. Number of Steak ‘n Shake joints slated to open in the United Arab Emirates: 40. Drop in Colombian cocaine production in the past decade, thanks to joint eradication efforts by the U.S. and Colombia: 72%. Estimated number of North Koreans who could buy a year’s worth of food with the $850 million their leader, Kim Jong Un, spent launching a rocket: 19 million.
The Israeli Defense Forces tweeted this on Nov. 14: “We recommend that no Hamas operatives…show their faces above ground in the days ahead.” Thus was announced the start of Israel’s military strikes in Gaza believed to be the first armed conflict to be declared via social media.
The “delicate” sex? 67% of women with a social networking profile have hit the “delete” on friends; 58% of men have. “Facebook was not originally created to be a company,” co-founder Mark Zuckerberg declared. After his company burned through as much as $50 billion of their wealth in the months since its IPO, some shareholders might be wishing that was so. And what of the nation’s homeland security chief, one of whose responsibilities is cyber security? Janet Napolitano reported she doesn’t use email at all.
Estimated loss in U.S. productivity due to people at work watching the Olympics: $650 million. Olympic low: A Greek athlete tweeted, “With so many Africans in Greece…at least the West Nile mosquitoes will eat homemade food!” Her country’s Olympic committee yanked her from London. Olympic high: South African sprinter Oscar Pistorius finished eighth in a 400-meter dash semifinal. Pistorius is a double amputee, the first to compete in an Olympics.
Speak we now of the indefatigable octogenarian: Christopher Plummer became an Oscar winner at 82. Hugh Hefner (86) married a Playmate 60 years his junior. Billionaire George Soros (82) became engaged to his girlfriend (40) while fighting off a lawsuit from an ex-girlfriend (31). New Zealander Wilmina van Hoof (81), having had a hip replacement a year before, skydived off Auckland’s Sky Tower. Why do you want to jump? her dive supervisor asked her. “It’s the only way I will get a nice young man to hold me tight,” she teased. Thrilled with the jump, she returned the next day – for a second one. To celebrate her 90th, she plans a balloon flight.
The cost of things: A 200-rocket fireworks package that, seen from up to 20 miles away, explodes in the shape of your face: $81. An all-diamond ring, laser-cut from a 150-carat stone: $70 million. A street-legal, collapsible-wing car capable of flying at 1,400 feet, for which there are already 100 orders: $279,000. Annual waste in the nation’s healthcare system, due to unnecessary care, paperwork, and fraud: $750 billion. A Bolotowsky painting which a North Carolina woman bought at a Goodwill thrift store for $10: $34,375 at auction. A “Santorum for President” sweater vest: a $100 campaign contribution. Naming rights to bathroom stalls at Utah’s Dixie State College: $2,000. Butt enhancement surgery from South Florida’s notorious “Fix-A-Flat” transgendered “doctor”: No less than your life, as paid by one Florida woman in March.
Further dispiriting evidence that society values inconsequential no-talents over underpaid types like teachers and care providers: Jersey Shore’s Pauly D raked in $11 million for DJ appearances. A Georgia family – a “horde of lice-picking, lard-eating, nose-thumbing hooligans south of the Mason-Dixon line” as one critic lampooned them – is paid a reported $50,000 per episode for a reality series in which their 6-year-old beauty queen-wannabe kid is the star, thus adding the name “Honey Boo Boo” to America’s lexicon, for better or for worse. Mostly worse. The Kardashian sisters snagged a key to the city from North Miami’s constantly-under-a-cloud-of-corruption leaders who, in the past, have gotten into trouble for handing out pricey police-style badges among themselves and cronies. Other local City Halls refused to bestow honors upon the K Girls when they came shopping for them.
Somehow, I don’t think their purpose was to evade the extra baggage fee: A smuggler stopped in South Africa had 220 diamonds in his stomach. A woman, flying from Colombia to Spain, was seized with three pounds of coke in her breast implants.
People in charge, behaving badly: A Jet Blue pilot, mid-mental breakdown, had to be restrained by his crew and passengers. A century after the Titanic’s Captain Smith nobly went down with his ship, the Coats Concordat’s decided to hell with his and cowardly linked away in a lifeboat, leaving his passengers to fend for themselves, 11 of them to die.
Our planet, still yielding surprises: Russian scientists discovered and unearthed a 20-million-year-old lake near the South Pole. A 62-mile-long structure was found in Mongolia, thought to be part of the Great Wall of China. Found preserved in amber in northern Italy, a 230 million-year-old mite.
Five states – Florida not among them – added 300 hours to their school year as part of a new pilot program. This will matter not to the 12% of U.S. schoolchildren who, we learned in 2012, are chronically absent, missing one out of every 10 school days. Nor will it matter to the 857 who drop out of our country’s high schools per hour each school day. But every now and then – not often enough – our education system produces a Ho Yang. Entering college at age 9, then medical school at 12, he received his Ph. D. at 18 and graduated among the University of Chicago’s Class of ’12 with an M.D. He is 21.
Science, once the enemy and scapegoat of the pious, is slowly, surely starting to win converts: the Rev. Pat Robertson advised followers “if you fight revealed science, you’re going to lose your children.” Don’t cover up evidence, he told them, that the earth is older than what the creationists preach, lest you turn off young believers. Marco Rubin, telling an interviewer of his belief that the earth is only 6,000 but that multiple theories should be taught to kids even though “I’m not sure we’ll ever be able to answer” whether the planet was “created in 7 days or 7 actual eras,” admitted, “I’m not a scientist.” No, senator, you sure aren’t.
Harvard biophysicists built an artificial jellyfish from silicone and a rat’s heart; could organ regeneration be not far off? To news of the discovery of the Riggs boson, a holy grail for astronomers and physicists for decades, Stephen Hawking conceded that he had once bet that it would never be found: “It seems I have just lost $100.”
“Armageddon” – not to be confused with what didn’t occur on Dec. 21 – is the name of a new Scottish beer with a 65% alcohol volume believed to be the world’s strongest. Much, much milder: the honey brown ale recipe which the White House brews as Obama’s own. Most expensive custom-made Starbucks drink? A customer in Texas forked over $23.60 for one.
“This is not our food,” declared Russia’s chief health official, urging his comrades to shun the burger. That would have made for apt advice for the man, who, while devouring a 6,000 calorie burger at the La Vegas Heart Attack Grill went into – what else? – cardiac arrest. For the rest of us, McDonald’s announced that it would amend its burger recipe to remove the ingredient that chef Jamie Oliver termed “pink slime.” This has no consequence for a 17-year-old girl in Britain who, after collapsing, told doctors that she consumed chicken nuggets from Mickey D’s and other fast food restaurants every single day for 15 years. After she revealed she was diagnosed with diabetes, Anthony Ordain lobbed one at fellow celebrity chef Paula Dee: “When your signature dish is hamburger in between a doughnut, and you’ve been cheerfully selling this stuff knowing all along…It’s in bad taste.” Food fight!
The times, they are a-changing’: Disney theme park employees may now sport beards and goatees, 75 years after the Seven Dwarfs began wearing theirs.
Let’s go to the stats: American teenagers who admitted to testing while driving: 29%. Veterans who commit suicide each day, according to estimates: 18. Proportion of vets who say “life is full” despite having lost a limb in
Afghanistan or Iraq: 4 of five.
Total of miles driven in her 1964 Mercury Comet by a Florida woman, 93, before retiring the car due to old age (hers, not the car’s): 576,000. Tons of Greek yogurt spilled in a crash on an upstate New York highway: 18. Total hits the National Archives website got in the eight hours after it uploaded 1940 census data: 37 million. Number of Flushmate toilets recalled after some exploded: 2.3 million. Worldwide proceeds that criminality generates, which, according to the U.N., makes it one of the world’s top 20 economies: $2.1 trillion.
Amount the average working American spends on coffee each year: $1,092. American workers who sleep less than six hours per night: 30%. Sales spike for Al Green’s 1971 song “Let’s Stay Together,” following Obama’s singing a line from it during a campaign rally: 490%. Sales increase in Big Bird adult costumes after Romney’s debate mention: 500%. Total of shootings, stabbings, and murders reported in the Big Apple on Nov. 26: 0.
Opiate-addicted babies born per hour in the U.S.: 1. Ratio of U.S. adults who admit to peeing in pools: 1 in five. Total fewer summer movie tickets sold in 2012 compared with 1992: 100 million. Number of millennials who expect to earn more than their parents, despite some economic evidence suggesting otherwise: 26%. Kids who save their allowance money (totaling an average $780 per year): 1%. Ratio of teens who admit to receiving a sexually-explicit photo on their cell phones and forwarding on to friends: 1 in four. Young adults who think Facebook is a fad: 51%.
Insurance payout for crop losses incurred in the nation’s summer drought: $446 million. Americans who identify as “unaffiliated” in their religious denomination: 1 in five. The average time, according to a British study, a worker spends at a desk each day: 5 hours, 41 minutes. Length, in miles, of a traffic jam on the main highway between Moscow and St. Petersburg, with cars moving at 5 m.p.h. in heavy snow: 125.
The state that Americans like best: Hawaii. Least favorite: California. Republicans’ fave: Texas. Democrats’ fave: California. Women’s fave: New York. Men’s fave: North Dakota.
Profiles in courage: Stephanie Decker shielded her two young children as a tornado hit their Indiana home. She lost her legs, but her kids, unharmed, survived. A year after the shooting that nearly claimed her life, Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, there to hear his State of the Union address, was embraced by President Obama on the House floor. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, preoccupied with the Sandy disaster: “If you think right now I give a damn about presidential politics, then you don’t know me.”
What Marvin Hamlisch, 68, did for love was compose the music that often reminded us of the way we were. Andy Williams, 84, crooned that there was such a lot of world to see and that once we had crossed Moon River, we’d find a rainbow. At last, Etta James, 73, assured us, life is like a song.
A little part of all of us broke beyond this world and touched the moon itself when Neil Armstrong, 82, first among our kind, led the way. The words of Maurice Sendak, 83, inspired generations of children to not fear where the wild things are, while the training of Angelo Dundee, 90, in a South Beach gym that still stands today, prepared a young Cassius Clay to become The Greatest.
Andy Griffith, 86, was both law (Sheriff Andy Taylor) and order (attorney Ben Matlock) before there ever was a TV series named “Law and Order.” Phyllis Diller, 95, Jack Klugman, 90, Sherman Hemsley, 74, and Nora Ephron, 71, made us laugh; Ernest Borgnine, 95, could reduce us to tears, and Ray Bradbury, 91, compelled us to imagine.
Accompanied by the music of collaborator Burt Bacharach, lyricist Hal David, 91, told us what our world really needs:
What the world needs now is love, sweet love
It’s the only thing that there’s just too little of
After a year of headlines featuring tragedies in Aurora, Newtown, and Syria, among others, can there be a more appropriate sentiment?