By Vivian Luu
Northwest Asian Weekly
1. Michael Jackson dies at the age of 50, but you already knew that
Our bodies pulsed to “Thriller.” Our hearts sank for “Billie Jean.” And when Michael Jackson announced his “This Is It” tour, we went bananas.
And then the world mourned his death, after he died from cardiac arrest on June 25 at age 50.
Asians across the globe took Jackson’s death to heart. Michael Jackson’s accomplishments were a big step for the music industry and an even bigger step for aspiring artists of color.
Fame, fortune, and scandal were the driving forces behind the endless news coverage of Jackson. Readership of Jackson news shot up when a Los Angeles coroner ruled the singer’s death a homicide after lethal levels of the anesthetic propofol, combined with two other sedatives, were found in his system.
Cardiologist Conrad Murray became Jackson’s personal physician weeks before his death. He may face homicide charges.
2. Tiger Woods, fallen athletic role model
It’s hard to think, “I’m going to be a pro golfer like Tiger Woods someday,” when, in 2009, Woods was known — not for his swing — but for his infidelity with multiple women. He may be the golfer of the year, but that does little to offset the 10 — and counting — mistresses that Woods allegedly had relations with.
New reports leaked in late November after Woods, who is one quarter Thai and one quarter Chinese, crashed his car into a tree near his home in Florida. The injuries that Woods suffered from the crash would be the least of his troubles. In the following weeks, tabloids, newspapers, and news broadcasters revealed that Woods had been seeing multiple women outside of his marriage.
Woods announced he would be taking an indefinite break from the golfing world to patch things up with his family. Relations are shaky not only between Woods and his wife, who is currently seeking a divorce, but also between the athlete and his sponsors, which include Nike and Tag Heuer.
3. Cash for Clunkers program gives car industry much-needed boost
Trade in your old car and get $3,000 to $4,500 back when you buy a shiny, new, energy-efficient speedster. That was the talk of the country this summer as it blossomed into one of the first successes of the federal stimulus package. But while everyone knew Cash for Clunkers would come to an end, news about the program kept rolling.
Owners of vehicles that are less than 25 years old and running on 18 miles to the gallon or less sped into car dealerships to trade in their “clunkers.” The $1 billion Congress appropriated for the program was immediately exhausted. Another $2 billion was added to the program in August in order to last until its end on Nov. 1.
Among popular energy-efficient models purchased after trade-ins included the Toyota Prius and Matrix, the Honda Fit and Insight, and the KIA Spectra.
4. Who’s wearing short shorts? Palin’s wearing short shorts
Imagine the cover of a typical fitness, beauty, or women’s magazine featuring the image of a beautiful woman in clothes that tastefully flaunt her features. No big deal, right?
However, when it comes to Newsweek publishing a photo of former GOP vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin in a similar manner, it’s a big problem.
The Nov. 11 edition featured Palin dressed in a sports jacket and short running shorts, legs glistening and a big smile to match. The tagline on the cover reads, “How do you solve a problem like Sarah? She’s bad news for the GOP — and everyone else, too.”
Palin responded on Facebook on Nov. 16 to nearly 1 million fans, saying the photo selection was “unfortunate” and “sexist.”
Americans couldn’t keep their eyes off of Palin. Political candidates are dressed in white and dark shades of red and blue. Any mention of sex linked to their name usually involves them having an affair with another person.
It is no surprise, then, that Palin’s — and America’s — response to her photo was a mixture of disbelief and embarrassment. She became better known for her pretty legs than her politics.
5. Confusing health care reform
This year’s health care reform bill was perhaps the first time Americans could observe the legislative process through news outlets.
This was great until the country experienced an information overload on the proceedings in the House of Representatives (and now the Senate) and got bogged down from health care talk.
The House passed the measure on Nov. 7 by a vote of 220 to 215.
A Democrat said this about health care for all. A Republican said that about insurance companies. A Catholic priest said something else about abortion. The media covered not only healthcare legislation development milestones but also all the minute details that would be considered “news” only because of their affiliation with health care reform.
It comes as no surprise, then, that everyone got the gist of what was going on in Washington, D.C., but everyone was overloaded on the coverage.
1. A hotline for India and China
India and Pakistan have a hotline to prevent military conflict. China and the United States have one to avoid nuclear warfare. The hotline between world leaders in Moscow and Washington D.C. started after the Cuban missile crisis to prevent further misunderstanding between the world leaders.
India and China hopped on board with a hotline between New Delhi and Beijing to keep steady ground on worsening border disputes — a conflict that could be the first of its kind in the multi-polar era. The two nations are at odds over the Himalayan region of Tawang, which is part of India’s Arnachal Pradesh state. The area is currently claimed to be part of Tibet by China.
The New York Times reported Chinese President Hu Jintao suggested a hotline to be set up with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to prevent military or nuclear conflict. While the story drove foreign policy makers to discomfort — Tawang now among Asia’s dangerous flashpoints — it was nearly invisible to the public eye because of the uneasy tension highlighted in the war in Afghanistan.
2. America has a beef with Cargill
New York Times reporter Michael Moss reported on Oct. 3 that Stephanie Smith, 22, was suffering after eating a hamburger tainted with E. coli. After coming out of a nine-week coma induced to save her life, Smith was paralyzed. She experienced brain damage and will never be able to have children.
The tainted hamburger was traced to a meat processing plant owned by Cargill Meat Solutions, a key player in the meat production industry.
Cargill has been under public scrutiny for a number of years, especially after consistent meat product recalls. But dependence on the meat industry and a vast preference for low-cost food — and, consequently less food safety assurance procedures — keeps the trend going. Not until recently has ground beef safety caught public attention.
3. Norman Borlaug, Nobel Laureate for agricultural innovation, dies at 95
Norman Borlaug taught the world how to feed itself, and that’s why he won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970. He died on Sept. 12 at the age of 95 from cancer complications.
The scientist is credited with development of agricultural innovations such as disease-resistant wheat and high-yield crop varieties to combat famine. He introduced techniques for preventing famine in Mexico and later became a professor of international agriculture at Texas A&M University.
Borlaug later traveled worldwide, championing developments in agriculture and food policy. He formed the World Food Prize to recognize scientists and humanitarians who help fight world hunger through advanced agriculture.
4. U.S. passport security system flops under GAO investigation
Getting a passport to jet off to Thailand shouldn’t be hard. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) reports it’s not hard to obtain a passport using counterfeit documents.
The social security number of a man who died in 1965, the social security number of a nonexistent 5-year-old, and a fake ID were all the materials a GAO investigator needed to get his hands on four genuine U.S. passports. The investigator later used the passports to buy a plane ticket and boarding pass, which got him through airport security.
The investigation embarrassed those who were responsible. Lips remained locked to prevent further leaks, leaving journalists dependent on confidential sources and open records — a definite contributor to why this story wasn’t as significant as it could have been.
5. Speculative house prices didn’t bubble over this year
It was false speculation that sent the real estate market into a downward spiral, but homeowners might be at it again after many are just climbing out of foreclosures.
In May, home prices started to climb again — after America witnessed the largest month-to-month drops in history.
Economists were convinced that America had seen the rock bottom of the housing market.
Big mistake. Survey data showed that most homeowners think their homes will increase in value dramatically over the next decade. This type of “bubble thinking” that led to the market crash in the first place is creeping back.
Government assistance in the housing crisis might actually encourage people to buy homes they might not be able to afford otherwise, as we’ve observed with foreclosure rates of nearly 8 percent in June while the Federal Housing Administration backed nearly 2 million mortgages in 2009. ♦
Vivian Luu can be reached at email@example.com.