Friday, December 31, 2010

MMX - a ride through 2010

cover story

Unless you’ve spent the last few decades living under a rock or vacationing in the vicinity of Alpha Centauri (or living under a rock while vacationing in the vicinity of Alpha Centauri), chances are you might have noticed that planet Earth isn’t exactly in the best shape. Every passing year has left permanent scars on the planet, and 2010 was no different. Here’s a look at the year that was:

The Backdrop
  • Terrorism: Just like the years that have gone before it, 2010 was not a big fan of peace. The year saw terrorist attacks and bombings in many parts of the world, including Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran, Russia, Turkey, Northern Ireland, and even Sweden; attacks in various cities of Pakistan throughout the year claimed hundreds of lives. Globally, a few terrorist attempts were also thwarted, including the Times Square car bombing attempt (May) and the cargo planes bomb plot (October).
  • Natural disasters: Earthquakes, floods, typhoons, blizzards, landslides…the world experienced a number of catastrophic disasters during 2010. The worst natural disaster of the year was the Haiti earthquake (January), which claimed an estimated 230,000 lives, injured nearly 300,000, and left 1,000,000 homeless; other calamities included the Yushu, China earthquake in April (over 2,600 deaths); the Chile earthquake in February (around 520 fatalities); the Sumatra, Indonesia earthquake and tsunami in October (more than 400 casualties); and the eruptions of Mount Merapi which started in October (over 350 deaths). Also, the eruption of a mountain in Iceland disrupted air traffic in Europe (see April), while heavy monsoon rains caused extensive damage and devastation in Pakistan (see July).
  • Also, load shedding: [insert preferred expletive here]

The Events

- Year of Youth: 2010 was designated as the International Year of Youth (starting August 2010) by the United Nations. The youth of the world celebrated this by remaining generally unaware of the fact that 2010 was designated as the International Year of Youth by the United Nations. (2010 was also the International Year of Biodiversity.)
- Inauguration of Burj Khalifa: The tallest man-made structure ever built, the Burj Dubai Khalifa skyscraper in United Arab Emirates was officially opened, making it the tallest building in the world.
- Success of Avatar: Within days of its release, James Cameron’s film Avatar (2009) had been declared both as successful and as rubbish awesome as his 1997 film, Titanic. By January 2010, Avatar had surpassed Titanic to become the world’s highest grossing movie, and the first film ever to make more than $2 billion. 2010 also saw Pixar’s Toy Story 3 (released in June 2010) become the first animated film in history to make over $1 billion worldwide.

- Winter Olympics: Canada hosted the 2010 Winter Olympics, an event that was generally well received by the world. The biggest winners at the games included Canada (Gold: 14; Silver: 7; Bronze: 5), Germany (G: 10; S: 13; B: 7) and United States (G: 9; S: 15; B: 13). Pakistan made its first Winter Olympic appearance with skier Muhammad Abbas competing in the Men’s Giant Slalom event; he placed 79th, which means he wasn’t last, therefore hurray!! *confetti toss* The XIX Commonwealth Games in India (October) and XVI Asian Games in China (November) were also held in 2010; both events gave Pakistanis multiple reasons to celebrate as the country won medals in sports including wrestling, boxing, cricket, squash, and hockey.
- ROKS Cheonan sinking: A South Korean Navy ship, Cheonan, was allegedly sunk by a North Korean torpedo off the country’s west coast, killing 46 of its 104 personnel; this issue further deteriorated relations between the two countries, and the stability of the Korean peninsula would remain a cause for concern throughout the year.

- Shoaib Malik and Sania Mirza’s engagement: The Pakistani media suffered from a severe attack of TMZ syndrome at the news of Pakistani cricketer Shoaib Malik and Indian tennis player Sania Mirza’s engagement (and subsequent wedding in April), leading the nation to ponder important questions such as WHO CARES?!!

- Iceland volcanic eruption: The eruption of the impossible-to-pronounce Eyjafjallajökull – which possibly got its name after someone threw the letters of the alphabet into a hat and pulled out characters at random; either that or it’s Icelandic for "island mountain glacier" – left people stranded all over the place when it filled the sky with ash, causing enormous disruption to air travel in parts of Europe. The volcanic activity slowed down in a few weeks, and the eruption was declared officially over in October.
- Gulf of Mexico oil spill: An explosion at the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig resulted in the "largest accidental marine oil spill in the history of the petroleum industry ", with thousands of gallons of oil gushing into the sea. Many efforts to stem the leak – which included stuffing the well with everything from golfballs and tyres to SpongeBob SquarePants and the souls of dead sea creatures – were unsuccessful; the leak was finally controlled in July, and the well officially sealed off in September.
- iPad: Apple launched its shiny new laptop-lite/iPod-mega tablet computer called the iPad; the gadget became a huge success. Later in the year (June), Apple released iPhone 4 which suffered from the much publicised antenna problem.
- N.W.F.P. renamed Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa: The name of Pakistan’s North-West Frontier Province was changed to Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa after they couldn’t come up with something that was even more difficult to spell.

- Creation of synthetic genome: Scientists “created a functional synthetic genome”, successfully synthesizing "the genome of the bacterium Mycoplasma mycoides from a computer record”, and transplanting it into “the existing cell of a Mycoplasma capricolum bacterium that had had its DNA removed". I don’t have to tell you how important that is, which is good because I have no idea what it means.
- European financial crises: While parts of the world recovered from their latest encounter with recession, parts of Europe suffered from a sovereign debt crisis; Greece’s economy received a €110 billion bailout package by the Eurozone and the International Monetary Fund. Ireland would also continue to deal with its ongoing financial crisis and would get a €85 billion rescue package in November.

- FIFA World Cup: The football world cup made its way to the African continent for the first time as an invisible swarm of bees invaded the stadiums; conjecture suggests that the bees might have been upset about the annoying drone of the vuvuzelas, and claiming copyright infringement; the event also made the now-deceased Paul the most famous octopus on the planet following his 100% accurate match outcome predictions during the tournament. As for the football, Spain eventually emerged victorious, taking home the World Cup title for the first time.

- WikiLeaks and the Afghan war logs: After stirring controversy by releasing the "Collateral Murder" Baghdad airstrike footage in April, whistle-blowing website WikiLeaks published over 90,000 Afghan war documents, making Julian Assange an internationally recognized figure, and Army intelligence analyst Bradley Manning – the alleged source of leak (who reportedly downloaded the information onto recordable Lady Gaga CDs by erasing the music and saving the intelligence data) – a prisoner who has since been held in solitary confinement. On the bright side, someone finally found a use for Lady Gaga CDs!
- Pakistan flood: Massive flooding took more than 1,700 lives and displaced millions following heavy monsoon rains in Pakistan; an estimated 20 million people were directly affected by the flooding. The country is said to have suffered from economic losses of up to 43 billion dollars; property, infrastructure, crops, and lives have been destroyed, some, possibly, forever.

- Cricket spot-fixing allegations: Pakistani players (Salman Butt, Mohammad Aamer, and Mohammad Asif) found themselves caught up in a match fixing scandal, after The News of the World revealed an alleged cricket betting scam centred on a Pakistan and England Test match at Lord's. With this, Pakistani cricket succeeded in its mission of always being in the news for all the wrong reasons. The tradition continued in November with wicketkeeper Zulqarnain Haider’s disappearance from Dubai (and subsequent reappearance in the UK) after receiving threatening messages from match fixers.
- End of U.S. combat mission in Iraq: American troops ended their combat mission in Iraq, marking the end of "Operation Iraqi Freedom" and the start of "Operation New Dawn" (from 1st September).

- Quran burning plan controversy: After announcing plans of burning the Muslim Holy Book on the ninth anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Pastor Terry Jones and the Dove World Outreach Center in America were condemned globally before backing down and cancelling the plan, giving the world a glimmer of hope that at times sanity does prevail. Earlier in the year, the Everybody Draw Mohammad Day campaign had generated anger among the global Muslim community and led to a ban on websites including Facebook in Pakistan during the month of May.

- Rescue of Chilean miners: 33 Chilean miners trapped nearly 2,300 feet underground for 69 days were lifted up, becoming one of the most, umm, uplifting events of the year, just as a light bulb lit up over the head of a Hollywood movie executive.

- WikiLeaks and the American diplomatic cables: Continuing on their mission to poke every hornet’s nest in sight, WikiLeaks released a collection of over 250,000 American diplomatic cables, revealing shocking details such as: war is bad, politicians are corrupt, and Santa Claus isn’t real. This, unsurprisingly, led to outrage against WikiLeaks: how dare they not let us live in blissful oblivion?
- Release of Aung San Suu Kyi: Burmese opposition politician Aung San Suu Kyi was released from house arrest; the pro-democracy leader who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991 had been under house arrest for almost 15 of the last 21 years.
- Antimatter atoms trapped: For the first time in history, humans succeeded in trapping antimatter when researchers at CERN held 38 antihydrogen atoms for about one- to two-tenths of a second each. Now lets all hope the Illuminati don’t find out about this or it could lead to global annihilation, or even worse…another Dan Brown novel!

- Arsenic based life form: In the midst of a media hoopla, NASA scientist Felisa Wolfe-Simon published a paper claiming to have discovered a bacteria in California’s Mono Lake that can grow using arsenic instead of phosphorus; the implications of the GFAJ-1 (GFAJ = "Give Felisa a Job"; no, seriously!) bacteria were huge and the hype intensified because of NASA's extraterrestrial diversion and it’s possible link to alien life. Then someone read the paper and found that it was highly flawed. Now no one’s sure about any of it anymore, which means everything’s back to normal and life makes sense again.
- Lunar eclipse: A lunar eclipse coincided with the northern winter solstice on December 21 for the first time since 1638; the next time an eclipse will fall on the same calendar date as the solstice will be in 2094. The 2010 eclipse could be seen in parts of North and South American and Europe, but unfortunately was not visible from southern and eastern Africa, the Middle East and South Asia. I say we file a lawsuit against the moon for geographical discrimination. Who’s with me?
- New Year’s Eve: The world very eagerly bids farewell to 2010 and looks forward to 2011, a year that can possibly, potentially, hopefully be better than its predecessors. As they say, good things eventually come to those who wait, and wait, and wait...
  • Alexander McQueen (40) – British fashion designer.
  • Blake Edwards (88) – American film director; worked on films including Breakfast at Tiffany's (1961) and the Pink Panther film series; husband of Julie Andrews.
  • Charlie Wilson (76) – American politician; subject of George Crile’s 2003 book Charlie Wilson's War and its subsequent 2007 film adaptation.
  • Dennis Hopper (74) – American actor; appeared in films including Easy Rider (1969), Apocalypse Now (1979), Blue Velvet (1986), Hoosiers (1986), and Speed (1994).
  • Erich Segal (72) – American author; wrote the novels Love Story (1970) and co-wrote the screenplay for The Beatles’ film Yellow Submarine (1968).
  • Farooq Leghari (70) – President of Pakistan from 1993 until 1997.
  • Gary Coleman (42) – American actor; best known for his role in the sitcom Diff'rent Strokes (1978–1986).
  • Gloria Stuart (100) – American actress; appeared in films including The Invisible Man (1933) and Titanic (1997).
  • Imran Farooq (50) – Pakistani politician; associated with the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM).
  • Jerome David "J.D." Salinger (91) – American author; wrote The Catcher in the Rye (1951).
  • Juan Antonio Samaranch (89) – Spanish sports official; seventh President of the International Olympic Committee, served from 1980 to 2001.
  • Lech Kaczyński (60) – President of Poland from 2005 to 2010.
  • Leslie Nielsen (84) - American actor; known for his comedic roles.
  • Martin Gardner (95) – American mathematics and science writer.
  • Miep Gies (100) – Dutch citizen; helped hide Anne Frank and her family during World War II, and discovered Anne Frank’s diaries.
  • Patricia Neal (84) – American actress; most notable films included The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951), Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961), and Hud (1963).
  • Richard Holbrooke (69) – American diplomat; served as Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan from 2009 to 2010.
  • Tsutomu Yamaguchi (93) – Japanese national; only person to have been officially recognised as having survived both the Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bombings during World War II.
- Sameen Amer

Us Magazine, The News - 31 January, 2010

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