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The Unapologetic Geek


Top 5 Heroes & Idiots of 2012 - Page 2

Presidential election years are always crazy, but 2012 strikes me as an especially nutty year. For the first time since I've started these annual accountings, I've had to trim several people out of my list of heroes and idiots, and settling on just five of each was a difficult endeavor. As always, I stress that these are personal picks, not picks that everybody would automatically agree on. Please feel free to share your own thoughts on the best and worst people of 2012 in the comments below if--or, rather, when--you disagree with my list.

3. Chief Justice John Roberts
John Roberts

I don't believe the Constitution allows the federal government to mandate that its population must purchase something or else be subject to legal penalty under the Commerce Clause. Having said that, I could have begrudgingly accepted the Supreme Court's decision not to strike down the Affordable Care Act's "individual mandate" if it weren't for the mind-numbing tortuousness of Chief Justice Robert's logic in coming to that conclusion. It is the Supreme Court's ruling that the individual mandate can survive under the semantical--and obviously arbitrary--decision to consider the "penalty" a "tax," even though it is never refered to as such anywhere in the ludicrously long law. When it came out that Roberts changed his original opinion (that the mandate is unconstitutional) after deliberations, apparently as a result of indirect pressure from the president and the press, it turned my disappointment into cynical disillusionment. It would seem that the Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court changed his mind about the meaning of the United States Constitution on the basis of public opinion--not law--and thus delivered a ruling that is obviously twisted and tweaked to fit his new conclusion. Even if you wholeheartedly support the individual mandate, this should disturb you. The fact that it was met with a collective shrug from most of America is even more shocking to me than the opinion itself.

CERN control center

I'm not just giving CERN a nod for announcing last year that they are over 99.9% sure they've found the Higgs Boson in the data from colliding hadrons, because even that tremendous accomplishment pales in comparison to the fact that CERN scientists were able to make this discovery front page news around the globe. It's easy to bemoan the sad state of science news reporting these days, but when practically every nightly news anchor has to spend a moment to explain to audiences what the Higgs Boson is, it's a huge victory. While critically important to a scientific understanding of the foundations of existence itself, the search for the Higgs Boson should have been a relatively obscure story on the fringes of deeply theoretical physics, but for a brief moment, it was something everybody was talking about. It still blows my mind, even moreso than the idea that there is an energy field permeating everything that is responsible for creating all known matter.

2. Judge Marco Billi
Marco Billi (right) reads the verdict

Another staggeringly poor legal decision that deserves your scorn is the decision of an Italian court to sentence six scientists (and one bureaocrat) to six years in prison for failing to predict an earthquake. In March of 2009, these seven people were members of Italy's Major Risks Committee and told a meeting in the town of L'Aquila that a large earthquake was "unlikely," but not outside the realm of possibility. Then, one week later, a 6.3 magnitude quake struck L'Aquila, killing 309 people. In 2012, the seven members of the committee were convicted of manslaughter and sentenced by Judge Marco Billi to six years in prison and to pay roughly $130,000 to the families of some of the victims. Even if earthquake prediction were more accurate than it is, this is an unbelievably terrible precedent that threatens to set the science back decades, if not centuries, as scientists all around Europe will now be afraid to make any kind of statements concerning future natural disasters, including statements that might help people prepare for them. Way to go, Judge.

1. Vicki Soto

Yesterday, officials in Stratford, Connecticut voted to name a new school the "Victoria Soto School." Their decision was met with tears of remembrance and a standing ovation. We all know by now the horrific events of Sandy Hook Elementary a few weeks ago, in which a crazed gunman killed over twenty-five people, most of whom were children, but often lost in the shrill political rants about gun control, poor access to mental health assistance, and violent video games is the story of Vicki Soto, a young elementary school teacher who used her own body to shield her students from the bullets. We will never know exactly what happened, and trying to imagine it is painful in the extreme, but we do know that Vicki Soto unhesitatingly sacrificed her life so that children could live. If that's not the definition of a hero, I don't know what is.

1. The GOP
The GOP congressional leadership

Republicans now know what the Democrats must have felt like back in 2004, when the best the Democratic party could muster against President George W. Bush was John F. Kerry. The Democratic philosophy expressed by the Obama administration during the president's first term was by most measures a demonstrable failure. Despite repeated promises that economic recovery was just around the corner, it never materialized out of the Keynesian magic tricks we were told would work. Despite promises to rein in the outrageous spending of the Bush years, the last four years have seen monstrous deficits that far outweigh the previous eight. Despite promises of bipartisan compromise and a new tone in Washington, both sides seemed to get further and further apart on practically every issue, bolstered in no small degree by the passage of the Affordable Care Act, arguably the most partisan legislation of the last hundred years. Despite promises to be the most transparent administration in modern history, the Obama administration does more out of the public eye than Bush ever would have dared. Despite promises to close Guantanamo Bay, let the Patriot Act expire, and take a less militaristic approach to the War on Terror, President Obama has failed to accomplish any of them. Thus, it shouldn't have been difficult for the GOP to come up with a candidate who could take on Obama, but the best they could do was Mitt Romney? Really? Now, thanks to this complete failure by the Republicans, we have four more years of economic stagnation and partisan gridlock to look forward to, thus the entire GOP establishment is easily the biggest idiot of 2012.

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-e. magill 1/15/2013


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