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Top 5 Heroes & Idiots of 2011

It's that time once again to list the best and worst the last year had to offer. I disclaim as always that this list only represents the people who were awesome or idiotic enough to retain my attention, that this list is in no way meant to represent the absolute best or worst.


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HERO
5. Link

When the entire world is on the line, one quiet, unassuming kid steps up and takes care of business without complaint. If there's a problem or obstacle, Link will eventually find the tools he needs to get through it, and he doesn't let anybody or anything stand in the way of doing what is right. Not only did he save Zelda and time itself from being the plaything of evil, but he also proved that Nintendo still has some magic left in it, and for that, he deserves recognition.


IDIOT
5. NASA
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It's tempting to blame the U.S. government for tightening the purse strings on space exploration, but the sad fact is that NASA, as an organization, has refused to evolve since the end of the space race and deserves to be put out of its misery so that newer, more cutting edge science and innovation can take its place. Unfortunately, private enterprise has yet to really catch up, and so we have ironically put our extraterrestrial hopes and dreams on Russian rockets. 2011 saw the landing of the last shuttle and the beginnings of an extreme downsizing for the once noble organization that put men on the moon several decades ago. The practical death of NASA is a dagger in my heart, and what makes it so much worse is that the only good thing NASA is doing these days--the Kepler telescope that is responsible for finding all those extrasolar planets that have been in the news--is on the chopping block thanks to the budget cuts. Looks like my generation won't be the one that sees our dreams of space travel come true.


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HERO
4. Christopher Hitchens

The death of Christopher Hitchens marks the end of an era. Hitchens was the last great journalist, and his signature cigarette, alcoholism, and wit attest to the fact that he seemed to belong in the age of Edward R. Murrow and Walter Cronkite. There are no more men like Hitchens, who was unafraid to check every premise, challenge every belief, and who absolutely refused to be pigeonholed by politics, ideology, or preconceptions. Sure, he was kind of a jackass, and it goes without saying that I didn't agree with every position he took, but goddamn do I respect his legacy, putting his every thought out there for all to see even as he was drawing his dying breaths. To die with pen in hand, so to speak, is how every writer should go.


IDIOT
4. Dr. Oz
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After I put the likes of Jenny McCarthy and Oprah on this list in years passed, it should come as no surprise to find Dr. Mehmet Oz here in 2011. In addition to his usual quakery and peddling of "alternative" medicine, this year, he did a show in which he reported that there are unsafe levels of arsenic in apple juice. This lead to a massive scare, as gullible and easily terrified parents dumped their juice containers in the sink, called schools across the nation, and demanded answers. The problem, naturally, is that Dr. Oz's journalism was lacking, and his conclusions were probably wrong. All he did was frighten people and harm a thriving industry in the midst of an economic malaise, which had the predictable results of boosting his ratings.


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HERO
3. Dr. Steven Novella

Luckily, there is one man who is willing to take the fight directly to Dr. Oz, and that man is Dr. Steven Novella. Against the advice of his friends and colleagues, Dr. Novella, a well-known skeptic and advocate for science-based medicine, appeared on Dr. Oz's show to discuss the problems of alternative medicine. Of course, Dr. Oz believes in every quack cure imaginable, be it accupuncture, chiropractic, or herbal aromatherapy mumbo-jumbo, but he also has a very large audience full of people who blithely accept whatever he has to say. For Dr. Novella to essentially go into the lion's den, where he could easily be subjected to biased editing and out-of-context representation, shows some serious balls and a deep desire to let the facts be known. The best part is that he presented his case well and likely succeeded in planting the seeds of critical thinking in some of the people in the audience, which may lead some of them to seek real medical help instead of crap when they get sick. Though there's no way to definitively prove it, I would argue that Dr. Novella's appearance on the Dr. Oz show may have saved a few lives. Dr. Novella carries the torch for science into even the darkest corners of nonsense (namely, daytime TV), and for that, he is a hero.


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-e. magill 1/10/2012










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