January 1, 2011

This image has been posted with express written permission. This cartoon was originally published at Town Hall.


What does 2011 hold in store? It may well start with a flashback. Remember the Y2K bug, when the world’s computers were expected to shut down because they couldn’t handle the “00” in 2000? There’s another one expected this year. It’s known as the Y1C problem, and although equally serious, it’s confined to the island of Taiwan, which uses a calendar that dates year 1 from the founding of the Republic of China in 1912. For many computers in Taiwan, 2011 is the year 100, and with the “00,” chaos may ensue.

If you’re writing that down, make sure your marker is honeysuckle, which Pantone has designated the color of 2011. The year has also already been proclaimed the year of forests and the year of chemistry by the United Nations. You’ll be able to book tickets to two places you’ve never been able to visit before: a massive new Legoland in Dubai and the abandoned city of Chernobyl, which opens to tourists this year. If you’re Canadian, you’ll be able to pay for these using Canada’s new plastic money, set to be released in the second half of this year.

What’s that? You didn’t have any of that on your calendar?

When looking forward to a new year, all too often we focus on the big and the obvious: elections, royal weddings, Harry Potter movies. But a year is much more than that: It’s one enormous landscape of exciting events you had absolutely no idea were about to occur. What follows is the Ideas guide to the year in the obscure and unexpected.

January Chernobyl begins to offer official tours for the first time since April 26, 1986, when the worst nuclear reactor explosion in history devastated the region and made the Ukrainian city a byword for techno-dystopian disaster. Tourists can see both the nuclear plant and the abandoned nearby towns. It’s reachable as a day trip from Ukraine’s capital, Kiev.

January Van Halen is expected to begin recording an album with, for the first time in more than 25 years, original singer David Lee Roth.

January 9 The world will gain a new nation if voters in Southern Sudan choose independence in a referendum that begins today. The youngest countries in the world currently are Curacao and the Republic of Kosovo.

January 11 The Dali Museum opens in St. Petersburg, Fla. It will be home to more works of Salvador Dali than any other museum in the world. Costing $36 million, it will house 2,140 pieces of art and is designed to withstand a category 5 hurricane.

January 12 A new $1 coin debuts in Plymouth, Mass., depicting the hands of Governor John Carver and Supreme Sachem Ousamequin Massasoit exchanging a peace pipe. It joins more than 1 billion dollar coins already minted. Though most Americans rarely see them in circulation, they are very popular in Ecuador, which began using the US dollar as its currency in 2000…

Read it all.

City Journal:

The verdict in the “criminal” trial of Mikhail Khodorkovsky and of his “accomplice” Platon Lebedev, scheduled for December 15, was delayed for unannounced reasons until December 27. The verdict was guilty, but the Russian people are not dupes: 40 percent know that it was concocted in behind-the-scenes power politics.

The accused is the former boss of the giant oil company Yukos, surrealistically charged with having “stolen,” right under everyone’s noses, 20 percent of Russian oil production between 1998 and 2003 (enough to fill tankers end to end twice around the equator). The prosecutor reduced the alleged amount of the larceny, without explanation, from 349 million tons of stolen oil to 218 million tons. He seems to find this revised number more plausible.

Meanwhile, Mikhail Kassianov (the Russian prime minister during the period in question), Viktor Khristenko (deputy prime minister at the same time), and German Gref (the development minister), called as witnesses, have stated that a diversion of oil on such a scale is a pure invention; they simply could not have missed it. The prosecutor juggles his imaginary barrels no less miraculously than the loaves multiplied in the Gospels. “Thanks to the prosecutor for proving my innocence,” should be the defendant’s ironic response. “No normal person could believe something so absurd.” The Yukos business has been dismantled, its assets joyfully distributed to Kremlin insiders. The fleeced ex-oligarch has already been unjustly punished by seven years in a Siberian cell on charges of fraud. Why has he not been set free, or simply exiled? Why not reassure foreign investors, who are disinclined to risk personnel and capital in a country rotten with general corruption and with the arbitrary greed of kleptocrats?

Here’s the explanation: Mikhail Khodorkovsky’s true guilt is very grave. He is right, and Vladimir Putin is wrong. Compared with other nations’ emergent economies, Russia’s is not looking good. Over the last three years, it received three times less in foreign investments than Brazil. Moreover, in a 2010 ranking of “international transparency,” Russia has fallen to the rank of 154th among “least corrupt countries”—right beside Tajikistan, Papua, and Yemen, just ahead of Somalia, and far behind Zimbabwe. Let’s entrust them with our dollars and euros! Khodorkovsky—well-known for having launched a plan ten years ago that would bring together modernization and democratization along with freedom from Russia’s political-economic mafias—insists that the nation’s extreme corruption, including embezzlements and assassinations, represents “a threat greater than that of a nuclear catastrophe.” He is paying dearly for too openly disdaining local customs in government and business. As Nobel Prize winner Mario Vargas Llosa wrote in 2008: “To guarantee that no one will again show such insanity in acting freely and participating in political life, we have before us the mad example of Khodorkovsky freezing at -40°, sleeping on bare planks with nothing to do but ponder the hellish reality of a Russia that, whether capitalist or communist, so resembles Dostoyevski’s nightmares…”

Read it all.

Psychology Today:

With 2011 here, we all have our New Year’s Resolutions that we are simply adamant about keeping, right?

And I bet, like most, you have tried practically every strategy for sticking with your resolutions and staying motivated through the year.

Yet, there is one successful strategy that you might not have tried — intentionally, that is — and that’s Anger.

A study out of the Utrecht University of Netherlands published in Psychological Science, describes how anger makes people actually want things more.

In this study, participants watched a computer screen that displayed common objects (pens, cups, etc.). However, unbeknownst to the participants, right before they would see an image of the object, a subliminal image of a face would flash rapidly on the screen. The images of the faces included a neutral face, an angry face, and a fearful face.

After seeing the set of images, in the first experiment, each participant was asked to report how much they wanted each object. In the second experiment, participants were told to squeeze a handgrip if they wanted the object and the harder they squeezed the more likely they were to win the object.

The objective of the experiment was to tie an emotion to an object. Researchers found that participants wanted the objects associated with angry faces over the objects associated with neutral or fearful faces. Additionally, individuals put more effort (squeezed the handgrip harder) to try to win the objects associated with angry faces…

Read it all.

This image has been posted with express written permission. This cartoon was originally published at Town Hall.

Despicable Me

January 1, 2011

This image has been posted with express written permission. This cartoon was originally published at Town Hall.


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