Remembering 2012

It was a leap year – the first one in four years. Mr Cyriac started blogging. It was cold in January, unless you were in Florida or Arizona, in which case it was mild. Spring continued to bloom in Syria and people died. A plump young man completed his first month as supreme leader of The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. In 2012, about 55 million people died while 135 million people were born. A woman born Elizabeth Alexandra Mary celebrated her 60th year as Queen of the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. One of Edvard Munch’s Scream paintings, of which there are four, sold for $120 million.

Venus passed between the Sun and the Earth. Scientists found the Higgs Boson particle at a Large Hadron Collider and began to wonder what to do next. London put on an Olympic show with skydiving monarchs and sheep. For two days, 600 million Indians went without electricity in what was the largest power outage ever. Mr Cyriac and Miss Dodson went to Delhi. The unlikely became the absurd and people throughout the country began questioning why they ever started watching Homeland in the first place. Scientists concluded that chocolate may be good for the heart. Fareed Zakaria apologized for copying and pasting. Comic book movies continued to make money.

Several celebrity couples broke up. Fights between fans of rival football teams in Egypt killed more than 70. Hurricane Sandy killed more than 200 in the Western Hemisphere. Typhoon Bopha killed more than 1000 in East Asia. More than 500 people were murdered in Chicago.

A man named Felix jumped from a balloon in space. Brooklyn got a basketball team. The UN General Assembly approved the recognition of Palestine as a non-member Observer State. Miss Dodson became a certified yoga instructor. The UN Climate Change Commission extended the Kyoto Protocol until 2020 – The US is still one of the only countries to not have ratified the original treaty. Israel and Gaza continued to be Israel and Gaza. A student was savagely gang raped on a bus in Delhi, setting off protests and the beginning of a national conversation. The European Union received the Nobel Peace Prize. Barack Obama was re-elected. Six weeks after being convicted of fraud and tax evasion, Silvio Berlusconi (age 76) announced his candidacy to become Italy’s Prime Minister for the fourth time.

New Yorkers are holding bigger balls for charity. Apparently Ray William Johnson has a girlfriend. For three hours, 228 customers at a coffee shop in Canada paid for other people’s drinks. I finally saw Billy Wilder’s The Apartment and absolutely loved it. Gangnam Style passed 1 billion views on Youtube. David Brooks is still the whitest man in America, except for maybe George Will. December 21st came. And then December 22nd came. Washington and Colorado legalized pot. Gay people can now get gay married in 9 states. NASA’s robot successfully landed on Mars and fired lasers at rocks.


2012 Year in Review – List of Lists!

So I’ve compiled a list of my favorite lists that I have seen over the past couple of weeks or so, chronicling the year that was in all its glory and pathos.

From Wired: Best Memes of 2012

Memes exploded into the mainstream in 2012. And given how quickly they take shape and get rendered obsolete, this means that anyone can be smug and make people feel stupid for not knowing about the latest greatest. Some are great, some are meh, but they are very 2012. God bless Hillary and her steadfast texting.

From The Atlantic Wire: The 50 worst columns of 2012

This sounds like a daunting task. Most folks probably can’t recall 50 columns at all, let alone the 50 worst ones from the last year. Hats off to the Wire team for highlighting the insane, ridiculous and often silly opinion pieces from writers such as Thomas Friedman, George Will and David Brooks. If anything I’m surprised those guys don’t have more entries on the list. It should be noted that the New York Times appears on the list ten times – such an honor!

From Quartz: The five most disruptive technologies of 2012

Remember when you were young (it doesn’t matter how old you are because it applies to anyone born after the Depression) when everyone thought that in their lifetime, there would be flying cars and humanoid robots in the house? Well 2012 actually introduced some breakthrough technologies concerning self-driving cars (still not flying) and augmented reality.

From Foreign Policy: Five Weapons to Watch in 2013

OK fine this is not about 2012, but it’s still fascinating. In case you’re not permitted to read the article, the weapons mentioned are (1) 3D printed guns, (2) killer drone boats, (3) stealth drones (the flying kind), (4) killer robot cars and (5) electricity blackout causing flying drones. So there you have it, 2013 will be all about death robots – nothing to be scared about.

From Forbes: 10 Greatest Industry-Disrupting Startups of 2012

The overwhelming trend among new companies has been to organize data to introduce buyers and sellers to new sellers and buyers. By now most of you know about Kickstarter’s work in crowdsourcing. But what about Farmingo, a company that connects consumers with local food producers? Recyclebank incentivizes recycling by partnering with traditional retailers. Noodle sounds like a Craigslist for K-12 education.

From National Geographic: Traveler Photo Contest 2012

Nothing fancy or avant-garde, just pretty pictures. The winners are shown on the link above but take a look at the In Focus section of the Atlantic where they’ve combed through the submissions and put together their own top 50. And then they put up another 50.

From the Huffington Post: 10 funniest awkward family holiday photos

HuffPo’s favorites from the trove of images available at Awkward Family Photos. I’m not even sure if this qualifies to be on the list as there’s nothing really specific to 2012 about it, but who cares. It’s a list, it was made in 2012, and it’s hilarious. Merry Christmas to all!

Time Magazine’s non-Presidential Persons of the Year

Time Cover Obama POYTime magazine recently named President Obama as their Person of the Year. This isn’t much of a surprise – any time you win the US presidential election, you have a pretty good chance of winning. In fact, five out of the last six President-elects have been bestowed with the honor.

What I find more interesting is all the instances in which the President-elect was not named the Person of the Year. Who were these people that were so outstanding that they managed to outshine the most obvious candidate? Here’s a list of election year winners going back to the award’s inception.


Person of the Year

What’s so special?

 1928  Walter Chrysler  People really hated Herbert Hoover
 1932  Franklin D. Roosevelt  President-elect
 1936  Wallis Simpson  Caused crisis in English monarchy
 1940  Winston Churchill  FDR had already won twice before
 1944  Dwight D. Eisenhower  FDR had already won thrice before
 1948  Harry S. Truman  President-elect
 1952  Elizabeth II  Fresh young queen for a tired country
 1956  Hungarian freedom fighter  David v. Goliath
 1960  American Scientists  DNA, space and computing
 1964  Lyndon B. Johnson  President-elect
 1968  Apollo 8 astronauts  First human orbit of moon
 1972  Nixon and Kissinger  President-elect
 1976  Jimmy Carter  President-elect
 1980  Ronald Reagan  President-elect
 1984  Peter Ueberroth  Managed 1st privately financed Olympics
 1988  The Endangered Earth  officially the “planet of the year”
 1992  Bill Clinton  President-elect
 1996  David Ho  HIV-AIDS scientific research
 2000  George W. Bush  President-elect
 2004  George W. Bush  President-elect
 2008  Barack Obama  President-elect
 2012  Barack Obama  President-elect

It used to be that you didn’t have to win the US Presidential election to stand a chance. These days, it’s near impossible without it. Still, your best options would be to (1) make a breakthrough in the natural/physical sciences, (2) be a business hotshot, (3) go to war with a great power, or (4) shake up the English royal family. If none of that works, try being a planet.

Mexico – Wealthier Than You Think

MexicoAs an American, it’s easy to think of Mexico as our poor and violent neighbor. And while there may be significant poverty and violence south of the border, it pays to take a step back and think of Mexico in a global context rather than a local one.

Mexico is always in the shadow of its wealthier and more powerful neighbor, in a way that hides how wealthy and powerful it really is. If Mexico were located anywhere else in the world, it would be perceived as a major international power. Adjusted for purchasing power, Mexico has the 11th largest economy in the world. Fareed Zakaria’s blog recently pointed out that although Mexico has a higher adjusted per capita income ($15,300) than Brazil ($11,700), China ($8,500) and India ($3,700), these other countries are always in the international economic limelight. Apparently the bad press has affected domestic sentiments as well – Mexicans see themselves as worse off than residents in these other countries even though Mexicans are significantly wealthier. Also, the Mexican economy continues to grow even as most of the advanced economies of the world has slowed to a standstill.

Mexico is the Scottie Pippen of international geopolitics – not a superpower but definitely a power to be reckoned with, and constantly in the shadow of the superstar teammate. There are of course those who say Pippen was as good as he was because he played with Jordan. The same can be said of Mexico’s wealth and power being aided by a close economic relationship with the US – but that’s a whole other blog post.

What Is Middle Class?

When I was growing up, I had a very different idea of what it meant to be wealthy than most Americans. There were many things that I considered luxuries that I often take for granted today. It took a decade or so before my family had enough capital to purchase a home. I even got my own room, which for me was the truest sign of becoming a regular American kid. When the family’s Nissan Sentra broke down, we upgraded to an Altima – yet another sign of moving on up. When I went to college (thanks in large part to needs-based grants), it was the first time in my life that I had a television in my room – we even had cable! The list of upward mobility acquisitions and activities goes on; they include but are not limited to: Walkmans, Nintendos, family vacation, summer camp, eating out in restaurants and playing tennis (as opposed to basketball or something god-forsakenly ghetto like handball).

At one point, this is what I considered rich
At one point, this is what I considered rich

It’s interesting for me to look back at a time when owning a home, having my own room (with cable TV) and attending college were all considered aspects of being rich. Reading the news today about the middle class reminds me of those times when I had an idea of middle class that was outside of the mainstream. During the recent presidential campaign and the current fiscal cliff negotiation, both parties have been positioning themselves as the defenders of the middle class. In both scenarios, the antagonists are portrayed as part of some moocher class, whether they be welfare recipients or Wall Street financiers.

On the surface, the main partisan disagreement is over whether or not to let the Bush tax cuts expire for families earning more than $250,000. Republicans will lose this battle – even prominent conservatives have admitted that raising taxes a little bit on the wealthy is either necessary, or only slightly bad. So it seems middle class families – those earning less than $250,000 – are in the clear.

Wait a second…$250,000? A family earning more than $200,000 is middle class? Let’s take a look at the numbers. According the the US census, the median family income from 2007-2011 was $52,762.  Only two percent of Americans earn more than $250,000. Households earning more than $150,000 are still in the top 5% of income.

A recent New Yorker article argues that those families earning between $100,000 and $250,000 should not be considered middle class – that they are really the “hautes” – almost rich, and certainly better off than true middle class families.

In a country like the US, everyone likes to consider themselves part of the middle class, to the point that it obscures what the term actually means. As the New Yorker article states, using the $250,000 threshold “enables relatively prosperous citizens to ignore their good fortune and pretend they’re just as put-upon as everyone else. When that happens, the real middle class—not to mention the poor—becomes invisible”.

My idea of middle class has changed considerably since childhood, but not to the extent that it includes families earning over $200,000.

Urban Rural Politics: America’s Biggest Divide

The starkest divide in American political culture is not between north and south. It is not between whites and “minorities” – not even heartland and coasts. Nothing captures the red-blue divide in the US quite like the disparity between cities and suburban/rural areas.

In 2008, something peculiar happened in Nebraska. The state’s 2nd congressional district, which contains the city of Omaha, voted for Barack Obama. On the map, the district is basically a dot of blue in a sea of red. This happened in Nebraska because it’s one of only two states that award electoral college votes by district rather than “winner takes all”. If Texas allocated votes by congressional district, then surely Dallas, Houston, San Antonio and Austin would be similar blue dots. Similarly, vast swaths of upstate New York would be red.2008 Omaha

For the Obama campaign, Nebraska’s 2nd district was not necessary for victory, but it was a nice cherry on top of their cake. While anomalous in terms of electoral history, the story of Omaha captures what’s going on in cities and states throughout the country.

The following is the results of the 2012 Presidential election by county. Red is Republican, blue is Democrat.2012_Presidential_Election_by_County

The following is a map of US population density by county. Yellow is low density, blue is high density.US population density 2000 The similarities tell a much larger story about America today. Where we live has a whole lot to do with how we live and what we believe. Perhaps we choose where to live based on the latter – a chicken and egg problem essentially. Either way, any real conceptualization of the red-blue divide in the US that focuses too much on East coast tendencies, or Midwest values is ignoring the real story.

According to The Atlantic, 27 of America’s 30 biggest cities voted for Obama in 2012 – that’s 90 percent! Furthermore, cities are getting bluer and rural areas are getting redder. We are constantly being warned that our country is becoming increasingly polarized. At least we know now where that battle lines and boundaries are being drawn.

The Origami House

How can one build a house that can withstand and adapt to extreme temperatures?

In Norway it’s common to see grass roofs.

In Australia, they have  rotating houses. This week though, I discovered something that took residential housing to a whole new level. In Finland, architect David ben Grunberg‘s has designed an Origami inspired building that can open up and fold into various combinations.

I can’t decide if it’s gimmicky or groundbreaking architecture. Sure, there are enormous initial costs (grass on the roof seems a lot cheaper), but the savings in heating, cooling and lighting costs might make up for it – and you won’t have to mow your roof (or get goats).