2012 was a year of victories and losses. In writing this column for the last quarter of 2012, I have made it my goal to maintain a healthy sense of cynicism while staying optimistic about my material. It might be less challenging to compile a list of twelve acts of deplorable cruelty or political indifference across the world this year, but I believe that writing about the beauty in a sea of ugly things is important, not only for a sense of perspective but to remind us that valuable and remarkable things happen on this planet not to remedy the horrors, but to make our world a better place to live. In the words of Hank Green: “The number of hugs per gunshot victim is very, very high.” In no particular order, here are ten of those things.
10. Idle No More
This grassroots protest movement was formed near the end of the year, but was no less heard by the mainstream media. Inspired by Chief Theresa Spence of the Attawapiskat First Nation, whose tireless efforts have helped shed light on the housing crisis in her hometown, Idle No More works for the respect of the rights of Indigenous peoples across Canada and hopes to combat socioeconomic disparity in Canada’s First Nations. The movement has received the support of both Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples around the world.
9. Felix Baumgartner’s Incredible Freefall
In October, the Austrian skydiver Felix Baumgartner broke the sound barrier when he fell from 39 kilometres (24 mi) out of space. Setting the world record for highest dive ever, he not only made it to the ground unharmed but proved that humankind’s curiosity isn’t limited, even by the stars.
8. The Olympic Games in London
The Olympic Games always evoke in even the most unsporting of us a little patriotic pride whenever our elite athletes take home a coveted medal. This year’s Games in London, England were distinctly British and definitely a little wacky, but then, the two often go hand in hand: one of the most memorable Olympic moments involved Mr. Bean falling asleep at the helm of the London Symphony Orchestra’s rendition of Chariots of Fire, only to tweet about it later. Antics aside, Team Canada took eighteen medals at the Games.
7. Where the Hell is Matt? 2012
After a four-year interval, Matt Harding, the infamous world traveler, YouTuber, and most importantly, funny dancer, returned with another Where the Hell is Matt video. In the notorious short videos, Matt performs his signature dance with people all around the world, sometimes learning a traditional dance from that region to boot. He has danced underwater, in airspace, and in demilitarized zones, but has never been deterred; traveling from Kabul to Kigali, North Korea to North Carolina, he proves that dancing is another thread of commonality that all human beings share.
6. Spencer West Climbs Mount Kilimanjaro
Torontonian Spencer West was born with a genetic disorder that caused his legs to be amputated below the pelvis at the age of five. Doctors who told him that he would never be a functioning member of society must have felt shocked when West scaled Mount Kilimanjaro, Africa’s highest point and world’s tallest freestanding mountain over seven arduous days. He spent a year training for the climb, and completed 80% of it using his hands only. 50% of people, able-bodied or not, actually reach the peak of the mountain when they attempt to climb it. Spencer West remains a testament to unbreakable human determination.
5. NASA’s Rover Curiosity Lands on Mars
NASA’s rover Curiosity landed on the red planet on August 6, 2012, after spending several months in space. Equipped with instruments designed to help it record, navigate, map, analyze, and evaluate the planet’s surface, its goals include investigation of water (and possible life) on Mars, its climate, and its habitability for humans in the future. While this may not be the stuff of Star Trek and its ilk, the Curiosity certainly represents more than a mere step forward for humanity.
4. The Berlin Patient
Also known as Timothy Brown, the Berlin Patient is currently the first and only person to be verifiably cured of HIV. Due to complications from HIV, he developed acute myeloid leukemia, a cancer which attacks white blood cells. His treatment included a complete bone marrow transplant, effectively bestowing on him a new immune system. However, his donor had a rare mutation in his or her marrow which completely blocks the entrance of HIV into the body’s cells, making Brown entirely immune to the virus. His body has remained HIV free since, and researchers are working to isolate the mutation in order to develop a cure minus the risks of bone marrow transplantation.
3. Malala Yousafzai’s Fight for Education
Malala Yousafzai’s name was virtually unheard of in the Western world before the Taliban made an attempt on her life. The fifteen-year-old Pakistani girl, an ardent and vocal activist for the promotion of education in Pakistan, especially for girls, was shot in the head by Taliban gunmen in October. When the Taliban issued an edict banning all girls from attending school in 2009, Malala took up arms and began to write an anonymous blog for the BBC, detailing life under the Taliban rule. Since then, she has become something of a local celebrity in Pakistan, receiving several international peace awards. The assassination attempt left her in critical condition, but has brought larger recognition to the cause of universal education across the globe.
2. Discovery of the Higgs Boson Particle
The Higgs boson is an elementary particle which has been speculated on since the 1960s. Very difficult to create using particle accelerators and even to detect, its July discovery at CERN, the world’s leading research center for physics, was monumental. The exact importance of the Higgs is initially mystifying, and a quick Wikipedia search doesn’t help the layman to understand it, but in its essence: the Higgs boson confirms the way in which fundamental particles, such as atoms, acquire mass. This discovery changes our perception of the universe and leads the way for further speculation in the field of physics.
1. Anonymous vs Westboro Baptists
The Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kansas, has held a controversial place in the mainstream media for many years. Some of the group’s activities include picketing the funerals of fallen soldiers and victims of HIV/AIDS; they believe that all sin on Earth is caused by LGBT people. However, the church overstepped its typical boundaries when it announced its intentions to picket Sandy Hook Elementary in Connecticut, saying “God sent the shooter to Sandy Hook” in punishment of LGBT people. When the faceless hacktivist group Anonymous got wind of the proposed picket, they hacked the church’s Twitter accounts and did what they do best: they released their personal information, and started a petition to have the church formally recognized as a hate group. The church’s website has since been mostly dismantled, and the petition has received more than the required number of signatures. Power to the people.
– By Erin