Nuggets of Wisdom

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Top 10 Good Things About 2014

2014 wasn’t exactly the best of years, what with Ebola, ISIS, the CIA torture report, midterm elections, police killings, and the countless other incidents making it a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad year. However, while it’s easy to be pessimistic about last year, there were several rare good moments, and if you focus on these few good things, then the year doesn’t seem quite bad. Here are at least 10 good things that happened in 2014.

#1: The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge

Would you dump a bucket of ice water over your head to help spread awareness of a life-debilitating disease? Millions of Americans proved they would. For the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, participants videotaped themselves being drenched with ice water and challenging their friends and family to do the same or else donate money to the ALS Association.

Since the challenge started in June, approximately 1.2 million videos were shared on Facebook of people taking the challenge, with 2.2 million mentions on Twitter. Many celebrities joined in on this viral trend—with some of my personal favorites including Tara Strong, Kermit the Frog, and Rob Paulson and Maurice LaMarche.

And before you think that people simply opted to brave the icy chills of cold water to get out of donating money, the ALSA reported a spike in donations that summer, having received $13.3 million in donations since the start of the challenge, which is much more than the “$1.7 million during the same period last year.”

Overall, the Ice Bucket Challenge proves that people are willing to do anything to achieve their 15-minutes of fame, and even more so to help with a good cause.

#2: Fight Against Cancer Advances

The past several decades have seen fewer people dying from cancer, with cancer death rates plummeting by 20 percent within the past 20 years. This rapid decline has been attributed to medical breakthroughs that have allowed for better prevention, screening, and treatment—and the new medical breakthroughs made this year could very well see that number of cancer deaths continue to decline.

New technology was developed to allow for earlier detection of cancer, allowing physicians to diagnose and treat cancer cells before they spread and become life-threatening. The University of Alabama had researchers develop a technique for the early detection of prostate cancer, while engineers at the same university developed a super-sensitive nanodevice that can detect extremely early signs of cancer and other diseases.

Perhaps greater than cancer prevention itself have been treatments to better fight against cancer. This year saw the development of injectable 3D vaccines that could fight cancer and other infectious diseases, a new technique that silences the leading cancer-causing gene, and a technique to isolate and study breast cancer tumor cells.

While the fight against cancer has yet to be won, with these new medical breakthroughs, the defensive strike against it continues to remain strong. Who knows: perhaps this new research will help allow cancer to go the way of polio within our lifetime.

#3: First Man-Made Space Probe Lands On Comet

On Nov. 12 at 4:03pm GMT, the Rosetta’s Philae spacecraft landed upon the surface of comet 67P (Churyumov–Gerasimenko), making it the very first man-made space probe to land on the surface of a comet—and though many people were distracted from this historic landing by Kim Kardashian’s butt or the lead scientist’s shirt, this landing will certainly go down in history as one of the most pivotal milestones in mankind’s journey into space.

The landing itself was not without flaws, as the spacecraft bounced upon the comet’s surface three times before landing, and its battery eventually ran out of power two days afterwards, but before that, it managed to transmit data back to earth, data which includes breathtaking up-close photographs of the comet’s surface.

This landing proves to be a major breakthrough in space exploration, and will help to further the research and study of the nature of comets and the potential resources that they could provide.

#4: More States Legalize Gay Marriage

Five years ago, both California and Florida imposed voter-supported same-sex marriage bans. Since that time, not only have those bans been overturned, but so have other anti-gay policies such as “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and the “Defense Of Marriage Act.” Such repeals reflect Americans’ increasing tolerance towards their fellow homosexual citizens, with 55 percent of Americans now in favor of same-sex marriage.

This increase in tolerance and acceptance has been reflected in the increasing legalization of same-sex marriage. Ever since last year’s Supreme Court ruling extending federal benefits to same-sex couples, more states have either legalized same-sex marriage or lifted their bans on them.

This year saw Arkansas, Idaho, Oregon, Wisconsin, Utah, Montana, and Colorado join the growing number of states to legalize same-sex marriage—though sadly, other states such as Ohio, Michigan, Kentucky, and Tennessee have chosen to maintain their gay marriage bans.

Despite this, more states have legalized same-sex marriage than have banned it, with 35 states allowing people of the same sex to marry their loved ones, and seven more states on their way toward legalizing same-sex marriage by next year.

#5: Marijuana Legalization Advances

The War on Drugs has proven to be a losing war 40 years after it was first declared. In light of its imminent failure, more Americans are in favor of marijuana legalization, with most of them considering tobacco, alcohol, and sugar greater health hazards than pot.

This year started out momentously with Colorado offering “the first legally sanctioned sale of recreational marijuana in modern history.” Since then, states such as Utah, Maryland, Minnesota, and New York have approved the legalization of medical marijuana, with other states such as Alaska, Oregon and Washington, D.C., approving recreational use, making four states in total where marijuana can be used for both medical and recreational purposes.

But perhaps the biggest milestone in marijuana legalization came later this year with Congress ending the federal ban on medical marijuana. Because of this, the Justice Department would no longer prosecute dispensaries or patients within states where medical marijuana is legal.

The Drug War is far from over, and even if marijuana were to be fully-legalized throughout the country in the near future, drug prohibition would still apply to other narcotics, which only serves to fill our prisons with non-violent offenders in a time when violent crime is on the decline but prison rates remain high. However, with the progress made this year, at least America is one step closer in the right direction.

#6: The Fight Against The Police State Advances

With news story after news story reporting on police militarization, abuse, and brutality, it’s easy to become disheartened in the face of the emerging police state. However, if anything, this growing news coverage has allowed more Americans to become aware of police malfeasance and unite them into solidarity against it.

Following the murders of Eric Garner and Michael Brown, Americans took to the streets in solidarity and protested against police brutality—and while the police officers responsible for their wrongful deaths walked away free, the long arm of the universe proved that it bends towards justice with the indictment of three South Carolina police officers with blood on their hands.

Also good news are politicians challenging bad policies that allow local law enforcement to overstep their legal boundaries. New York City repealed its problematic stop-and-frisk policy, while Missouri is cracking down on predatory traffic ticketing practices that allow local law enforcement to “raise an illegal proportion of funds for their local budgets.”

Perhaps the biggest blow to the police state has been through body cameras, which receives overwhelming bipartisan support. Baltimore unanimously approved a body camera bill, while one city in California, where police officers have been required to wear body cameras for the past three years, has seen a drastic decline in police violence.

The police state may be growing strong, but the fight against it grows even stronger, with more and more Americans taking the stance to demand that law enforcement upholds their oath to protect and serve the public.

#7: Bloomberg’s Soda Ban Lifted

Michael Bloomberg may have stepped down from his position as Mayor of New York earlier this year, but he left behind a 12-year-long legacy of nanny state policies that continue to remain in effect. His most controversial and egregious policy was his ban on soft drinks larger than 16 ounces. Fortunately, Big Apple fans of the Big Gulp found reason to rejoice after the New York’s Court of Appeals struck down Bloomberg’s big soda ban later this year.

However, even though this soda ban was struck down, many more cities and states throughout the county have contemplated stricter regulations concerning soft drinks. Illinois proposed a tax on soda and other soft drinks, while such a soda tax was passed in Berkeley, California (though failed to pass in San Francisco).

Contrary to popular misconception, soft drinks are not the number one cause of obesity in America. Even if they were, taxing and regulating them would only be counter-productive, as such sugary drinks are only affordable because federal corn subsidies make high-fructose corn syrup cheap to produce. If politicians are truly concerned about soft drinks expanding waists, they should attack the real source of the problem by overhauling farm subsidies.

#8: More Americans Favor Gun Rights

One would assume that the past 20 years of the worst mass shootings in American history, from Columbine to Sandy Hook, would frighten Americans into accepting stricter gun control. To the contrary, support for gun rights have reached their highest point within the past two decades.

Despite such support, gun control proponents insist that more Americans actually favor stricter gun laws such as background checks; however, they fail to note that support for background checks drop when the possibility of a national gun registry is factored into the equation, as the majority of Americans fear that background checks could possibly lead to the creation of a national registry of gun owners, which would allow the federal government to more easily confiscate legally-owned guns.

With such a strong support for gun rights, more Americans are supporting looser rather than stricter gun laws, and politicians are quick to follow suit. Georgia passed a law permitting guns to be carried anywhere including bars, schools, and even churches, while Texas is contemplating the open carry of handguns. While gun control advocates insist that concealed and open carry laws would only increase gun violence, cities such as Chicago, which have already permitted concealed carry, prove this isn’t the case.

If anything, contrary to the media hysteria surrounding mass shootings, both violent crime and gun deaths are at historic lows, proving that, when it comes to guns, the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.

#9: More Parents Favor Homeschooling And School Choice

With the ever-controversial Common Core standards dividing parents, worrying and frustrating teachers, and otherwise angering people across the political spectrum, more Americans are losing faith in the public school system—and it certainly doesn’t help that education officials have openly admitted that the Common Core curriculum is more focused on “social engineering” than education.

If anything, Common Core has prompted more parents to pull their children out of public schools, furthering a decades-long increase in homeschooling. Since 1999, homeschooling has grown seven times faster than public school enrollment, with the number of children who are homeschooled having increased by 75 percent.

Also on the rise has been support for school choice. Aided by the popularity of the documentary Waiting For Superman, more parents support school vouchers, parent triggers, and other “school choice” initiatives which would allow them more autonomy with their own children’s education. Even Democrats and teacher unions who were once opposed to such education reform have since come to embrace it.

With America lagging far behind other countries in education, more and more parents are becoming vocal in their distrust of the public education system and in their desire to have more control over their children’s education.

#10: Third Parties (Especially Libertarians!) On The Rise

This year’s midterm election saw the lowest voter turnout in over 72 years since WWII—though considering that their only two options at the voting booth are between one political party bought and sold by special interests and another party bought and sold by special interests, it’s no wonder than most Americans opted to stay home on Election Day.

However, don’t interpret low voter turnout as political apathy. Americans are still highly invested in politics, but they’re no longer buying the two-party illusion of choice anymore, as more and more are identifying as independents and voicing support for a third party.

The third party experiencing the greatest rise in support this year has been the third largest American political party: the Libertarian Party. Libertarian voter registration has increased by 11 percent this year while Republicans and Democrats have only seen their numbers dwindle. Least you think these numbers haven’t translated into votes, this year’s election saw the Libertarian Party win “more votes in top-of-ticket races…than any alternative party in the United States in the last 100 years and the second-highest in the nation’s history.”

Support for third parties, especially libertarians, has been strongest among the younger generation. More millennials identify as independents, and especially as libertarians. One survey reveals that “66 percent of millennials believe government is inefficient and wasteful”, which is “a substantial increase since 2009, when just 42 percent of millennials” thought the same thing.

If less Americans are turning up at the voting booth, it’s only because they want more options than just the two big government and business parties, especially more options that reflect their desire for limited government, fiscal responsibility, and social tolerance.

Honorable Mentions
  • The U.S. officially ended the War in Afghanistan through a symbolic ceremony by both it and NATO at their joint military headquarters in Kabul, following Obama’s announcement earlier this year to withdraw 9,800 troops by the year’s end, with most armed forces out of the country by 2016.
  • Obama announced that he would be lifting America's 50-year-old embargo against Cuba, thus ensuring free trade and travel with the country.
  • The U.S. Supreme court ruled warrantless cell phone searches unconstitutional, and slammed Obama's unconstitutional executive overreach for being, well, unconstitutional and overreaching.
  • Malala Yousafzay, who bravely protested the Taliban’s suppression of education for Pakistani youth, especially women, and who survived an assassination attempt against her, was conferred the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize—making her one of the few winners worthy of the prize.
  • Mia Love becomes first black Republican woman elected to the Senate, and Elise Stefanik becomes the youngest woman ever elected to Congress. (And both of them are Republicans. Suck it, Dems!)
  • U.S. abortion rates have reached their lowest level since 1973, following the trend of more Americans opposing abortion and more abortion clinics shutting down.
  • Fox News’ Shep Shepherd, amidst media hysteria surrounding the Ebola outbreak, in an epic four-minute speech calmly explained to Americans why the only thing they had to fear from Ebola was fear itself.
  • Nickelodeon’s Legend of Korra broke boundaries during its season finale with an implied relationship between the titular female character and another character of the same sex—making this the first children’s animated series to feature such a lesbian/bisexual couple.
  • The Star Wars: The Force Awakens teaser trailer sates the appetite of Star Wars fans for the upcoming seventh installment.
  • The Lego Movie—seriously, everything about this movie is awesome! It deserves to win an Oscar at the next Academy Awards!