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2012: a year of Reversion

Last year, I spent a few days creating a long review of the year 2011, resulting in the post ”2011: a year of revolution”, and, while the previous year was one of change, of hope, of uproar, the year of 2012 has instead served a hinder to those very notions. This year has been one of reversion, of back-lapse, of status quo: of reversion. It was the year when the clocks were turned backwards or simply stopped, when ancient human tendencies have resurfaced, and when the revolutionary hopes of the year before were crushed; not always for bad, America saw its people voting in favour of human progress. However, there were also moments were we showed that we have evolved, where technology and science propelled us into a new era, and when mankind took a leap from space.

Now, follow me when I look back at the year past, and do pay extra attention to the trends and themes of reversion i.e. the repeating of history and backdrops of development and progress.

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The events listed in this post are in chronological order to the extent it was possible to arrange them so. If not, some events may overlap, but I have done my very best to structure them chronologically or logically.

My UK interviews

My year started with going to England twice in January for medical school interviews with two of the most prestigious universities in the world: University College London and Imperial College London. However, the interviews went badly and I was rejected.  Oxford University had rejected me in December so I was very depressed when I received the news of the other two rejections. Luckily, I had already arranged to start studying in the spring of 2012.

France: my French studies in Nice

I received message of my third and last interview failure during my first week living and studying in Nice. Had my father not urged me to check the Swedish official higher educational website if there were any French courses abroad, I would never have clicked in on the site where Mälardalens Högskola offered about 25 students the possibility to study French in Nice, southern France, at a small private school called France Langue. Imagine that he told me to do so on the very deadline day and I sent my application instantly. Luckily, due to my good grades from the International Baccalaureate, I got a place for one of the most coveted courses in Sweden! It was a tough course for me, because we at the IB were not allowed to study the foreign languages for the latter two years of the three years, so my French was really bad when I arrived. I fought very hard with verbs and verb constructions, and now afterwards I regret not having the courage to speak to more French people. At least, I had a few meals with my landlord, a very pleasant lady in her 60s, where she spoke simply and slowly and had the patience to listen to me dragging her language in the gutter.

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Me and two of my best friends in Nice!

I also remember late study session of 6 hours or more at cafés with my classmates, thank you guys! My strength was that I am a very confident speaker when it comes to prepared speeches or presentations, and when I had the time to arrange the sentences on beforehand and designing a good-looking Powerpoint presentation I blew the teachers’ minds. I thank the TED conference videos and the IB for this quality of mine, and especially Hans Rosling (the Karolinska Institute professor) who with his very Swedish English held some of the most intriguing and interesting TED talks out there! I always watched at least one of his talks before going to school, and somehow his untroubled manner of presenting really gave me confidence. In the end, I got the highest grade in all parts of the course apart from the final big grammar test (which one had to pass in order to pass the course) in May which I just passed, but overall I got the highest grade in the course! Some friends came over to France and we snowboarded, went to Monaco, sunbathed, and watched Ligue 1 football together, giving me strength to carry on fighting those subjonctifs and conditionels.

The EU embargo on Iran

On January 23, the European Union announced an embargo on Iran for the country’s continuation of its uranium enrichment program presented in an EU report published the same day. Iran in turn, in February, cancelled all its post-July petroleum exports to the EU, and this was followed by that Iranian banking connections in the SWIFT network (an international banking network, the biggest in the world for financial transactions) were rejected. According to different sources, the figure of EU-Iran trade was a bit vague both before and especially after the controversies. However, before the embargoes about 20% of Iran’s oil export went to the EU and about one third of Iran’s trade was with the EU.

Egypt eruption of violence

A blood-stained seat at Port Said Stadium after the horrible storming.

The Arab Spring of 2011 was to spill over into 2012, but little was to be seen of positive change. During a football match at Port Said Stadium between Al-Masry and Al-Ahly on February 1, the former’s fans stormed the pitch and attacked the other team’s fans with swords, stones, knives, and other weapons. When the dust settled, over 1 000 people had been injured and 79 killed. This came as a shock to the whole world and I think this proves that football and politics are interchangeable and interconnected. Football stadiums are inherently thought of as the source of something positive: the beautiful game. The Egyptian police was criticised for its paralysis during the incident and it required the airlift of the army to get the players out of the locker rooms where they had been trapped. A truly shameful event for the reborn nation – and not a harmonious platform for the new government to rebuild the nation, with Mohamad Mursi, elected new President of Egypt in May and assuming office on June 30.

Mohamed Mursi – new President of Egypt.

In November, after Mursi’s government announced that a new constitution, in a decree that would grant him absolute power in the country, would be voted for, new protests erupted as pro-Sharia and pro-Islamic elements clashed with pro-secularist people; once again Tahrir Square was to serve the gathering site for protest. Violence ensued, with the army having to protect the presidential palace and with Mursi eventually annulling the decree. For once, perhaps one can hope that the political scene in Egypt is changing since no large-scale revolution was needed to limit the absolute power of the leadership. Still, Mursi’s Muslim Brotherhood will be continuing to press for Islamic reform and, in the long run, possibly Sharia. At least, that is what a large part of the electorate calls for.

Re-election of Vladimir Putin/Pussy Riot

On March 4th Vladimir Putin is arguably elected President in Russia with about 63,6% of the vote. On May 7th he assumed office for the third period as President of Russia. The election took place on the background of a very recent event, namely a concert by the feminist activist musical group Pussy Riot in a church on February 21. The members of the group were arrested and sentenced to prison, with the whole international artist élite crying for their release and for the following of human rights in Russia. The church-stage performance was a reaction to the Orthodox Church’s support of Putin in the elections.

Pussy Riot during their church performance.

Allegations of corruption and electoral fraud were made, and although some attempts to make the elections transparent (e.g. use of web cameras in the voting stations), the opposition and some international organisations criticised the procedures. During the campaign, big demonstrations were held in around Russia, mainly in Moscow. After Putin’s victory, the leaders of Venezuela (Hugo Chavez), India (Manmohan Singh), Pakistan (Asif Ali Zardari), and China (Hu Jintao) congratulated him.

The death of Whitney Houston

Loved by many, the death of Whitney Houston on February 11 can be likened in fan sorrow with the death of Michael Jackson. Few musical artists cause such a wave of sorrow at their deaths. She paved the way for coloured stars in showbiz and everybody seems to have a personal relationship to her in some way. Here is mine:

Second Greek rescue loan

Even more controversial than the first bailout loan in 2010, the second rescue loan of about $130 billion (the first was about €110 billion) from the Eurozone countries to Greece took more than half a year to plan, from the summer of 2011 until the signing of the bill on February 21 in 2012. I am not knowledgeable enough to discuss the exact effects of these deals and what the future looks like, but what I can say is obviously that I hope to see that the economical landscape in the world improves very, very soon. The Nobel Peace Prize of 2012 as as you know or will read later in this post awarded to the European Union – but, if the EU cannot solve the problems in the world, we will most probably see conflict and perhaps even war, as divergences in socio-economical conditions historically often lead to frustration, conflict, and eventually war or revolution.

Map of the Eurozone in blue.

The thing about lending money to needing states is that nobody is happy. The country to lend money looses money it could have (theoretically) spent within its borders or traded with, hence (theoretically) sacrificing the well-being of its own population for another population whose government was so irresponsible as to cause the debts. The country to receive the loan is not happy because even if it resolves its first debts, the new loan will cause another debt, and if money is lost on the way (which is always the case) the country now stands with an even higher debt and less money. And, other countries in the world or in the EU stands to loose out on trade (import-export) and are afraid the have to put in to the next loan to a crisis-stricken country. Nobody, nobody benefits apart from extremist political parties, just like Adolf Hitler and his NSDAP did during the Great Depression – and we all know what ensued – and it is a fact that mainly rightist-extremist parties gain ground in Europe, where the openly anti-Semitic fascist party Jobbik in Hungary has about 17% of the electorate’s support by December of 2012. If the economical crisis is not dealt with properly – there will be instability and in worst case even conflict in Europe. Why are we coming back to the tendencies of the 1930s? Do we ever learn?

Kony 2012

On March 5, a half-hour long video was released on Youtube called Kony 2012. Powerfully edited, it calls for the capture of the Lord’s Resistance Army’s leader Joseph Kony. To day it has racked up a staggering 96 million views and was for a week making constant headlines – both good and bad – throughout the humanitarian world. At first, I was very positive to the video and its message, but after having done some research and given it some more thought I wrote a longer post on the moral issues in regards to the campaign, which some people found amusing… Borderline hypocritical perhaps, since I at first was very positive to the video and then changed my mind and criticised it; in the end, I say that it is a great piece of PR but that it lacks depth in the end – if one really wants to make that difference from home, one should support recognised NGOs such as Médecins Sans Frontières, the Red Cross, or UNICEF. However, for those of you who have not yet seen the video, here it is:

Mali coup d’état

On March 22, the Mali president Amadou Toumani Touré is ousted by a military coup resulting from dissenting soldiers due to their perception of bad leadership during a rebellion in the country (the Tuareg Rebellion). The day after, the African Union expelled Mali due to its instability. The big majority of the international community has condemned the junta’s takeover and calls for democratic reform since the military appointed key positions after the coup (and even replaced its own Prime Minister in early December). As a result of the power vacuum, the Tuareg Rebellion leads to the announcement of the independent region of Azawad in northern Mali. The Tuareg fought for a while beside the Islamist group Ansar Dine, however, while the former wanted a secular state the latter, which is Al-Qaeda-linked, wanted Sharia and hence more fighting resulted when these two factions fought for control of the north – this included the destruction of several UNESCO world heritage sites in Timbuktu.

There is a real danger that if the Islamic extremists are not stopped, a new Taliban state will emerge just like Afghanistan before the American invasion (arguably, it still exists…), which virtually all western nations want to avoid. Especially the US and France have interests, the former due to its bad relationship to Islam and the latter because Mali is its former colony, with all the vested interest that follows. Personally, I believe that all religious extremism and fundamentalism (especially Sharia) should be suppressed and hence I hope the world community can combat, either politically or in worst case militarily, the growing fundamentalist influence in the area (shadowed in brown in the picture above). This, as Somalia during the early 1990s, will turn very bad if nothing is done and if the AU and UN stand by passively – yet another backdrop of history.

Jim Yong Kim elected World Bank President

Jim Yong Kim nominated by Barack Obama to the post as head of the World Bank.

The South Korean-American doctor Jim Yong Kim was elected President of the World Bank on April 16, after being nominated by Barack Obama on March 23. He was previously head of Darmouth College and was thereby the first Asian-American to be President of an Ivy League school. I have followed him just a little bit and have found him to be a calm, eloquent, and rational man. I wrote a post about his assumption of the presidency and the World Bank earlier this year.

The Swedish SAT: the High School Test

In Sweden there is a certain type of SAT called Högskoleprovet in Swedish, correlating to the High School Test in English. In content, it is an equivalent of the SATs, including Swedish, English, and Mathematics. It is a tough and time-demanding test and about 0.5% get the highest grade of 2.0. I actually flew home over the weekend from Nice to Sweden to write the test to prepare for the medical school applications (one applies automatically through the high school grades and the High School Test if one has written it). I am very glad I did so, because I scored a 1.9, which in practice means I secured a medical place. Question was only if 1.9 as enough to get into the Karolinska…

Charles Taylor found guilty of war crimes

The former Liberian President Charles Taylor was sentenced to 50 years in prison by the Special Court on Sierra Leone (SCSL) in the Hague on April 26. He was found guilty on all 11 charges including acts of terrorism, murder, enslavement, rape, and use of child soldiers. Taylor was President of Liberia from 1997 to 2003, a position he had acquired through influence gained as a guerilla leader and warlord in the First Liberian Civil War 1989-1996 and subsequently coercing the people to vote for him during a campaign where he infamously used the slogan ”He killed my ma, he killed my pa, but I will vote for him”. It was his crimes and his involvement in the Sierra Leone Civil war between 1991 and 2002 that he was arrested and sentenced for. In Sierra Leone he directed the rebel faction the Revolutionary United Front (RUF, depicted in e.g. the film Blood Diamond starring Leonardo DiCaprio, one of my favourite films) that killed, raped, and mutilated thousands and thousands of civilians. He also exchanged weapons for diamonds. In 1999 a faction in the north of the country rebelled and eventually came to surround Taylor’s faction which lost all land but the capital, Monrovia. In 2003 Taylor resigned and fled to Nigeria, from where he eventually was forced out to be arrested in Liberia.

Charles Taylor at the Hague.

The sentencing was a victory for all the victims of Taylor’s terrorism and is a victory for the United Nations’ Charter of Human Rights. What he has done and what injuries his actions will have in the future can never be undone and the people that has suffered cannot be consoled or repaid for their suffering. Taylor’s reign of terror spilled over to many other countries and hence his sentencing was not surprising. However, I am many other probably believe that 50 years is not enough. His crimes should have justified 100+ years, but we are glad that he will never be free again. However, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the current Liberian president, has a lot of work to do because of what Taylor did.

Francois Hollande elected French President

When I lived in France, I could follow the French presidential election closely. Although my French was not perfect, I could pick up the general tendencies in the campaigns. On the far right, the nationalistic and racist Front National (FL) under the leadership of Marine le Pen gained ground, a typical sign of economic depression. On the right, Nicholas Sarkozy’s Union pour un Mouvement Populaire (UMP) lost ground, perhaps mainly to the far-right but also to Francois Hollande’s strong Parti Socialiste (PS) which eventually came to win. I personally was fascinated by the passion of the leftist party of Luc Mélenchon, Front de Gauche. It was a very tough campaign and one could easily spot Sarkozy’s troubled stress as he fought to keep his stance. However, in the environment given, the call for change will always be stronger than conservative forces, and Hollande’s slogan ”le changement, c’est maintenant” or ”the change is now”. I was very glad to eventually see Hollande win the elections as he has promised to introduce social and economical reform in favour of the less fortunate, although French stars such as Gerard Depardieu has complained and actually moved abroad (Belgium) due to the 75% tax rate for the top paid.

Serbian war criminal Ratko Mladic’s trial starts

Arrested in 2011, the Serbian ex-commander and war criminal Ratko Mladic’s trial began on May 26. I was very happy when he was captured, because as in the case of Charles Taylor, all war criminals that we can prove committed crimes against humanity and the human rights must be apprehended and be held responsible for their crimes. Mladic is possibly the man directly responsible in the role as Colonel General for the mass murder of 8 300 men and boys in Srebrenica in July 1995, in what we know today to be the worst war crime since the Second World War.  I think of one of my absolutely best friend, who is Bosnian and was born in a Muslim family, whose father was shot dead by Serbs in the Yugoslavian Civil War. MT, I think of you, brate, although I know that a conviction of Mladic will change nothing in practice.

Mladic in front of the Hague Tribunal.

Greece: where ”Golden Dawn” means that the darkness is rising…

In June during two election rounds, the neo-Nazi party Golden Dawn in Greece got 6.9% of the overall vote, winning them 18 seats out of 300 in the national parliament. It is a true disgrace to Greece and to Europe for letting the situation in the country fall apart to the extent that Nazism enters the real stage. They arrange rallies and marches and carry an agenda that echoes that of Adolf Hitler. The crumbling Greek state reminds us of the Weimar Republic that went under due to the discontent and divisions caused by the Great Depression. Reversion of history, once again the theme.

Golden Dawn members heiling, with party leader, Nikolaos Michaloliakos, walking in the blue shirt to the far left.

And by the way, what is really the ”neo-” trying to accomplish? Nazism is Nazism and it should not exist at all. An absolute DISGRACE!

China becomes third country in the world to dock in space

China became the third country to dock a spacecraft carrier to a docking module after the US and Russia on June 24, when a team of three Chinese astronauts including China’s first woman, Liu Yang, in the spacecraft Shenzhou 9 docked manually to the module Tiangong 1.

Liu Yang – the first ever Chinese female astronaut.

The probable discovery of the Higgs Boson

On July 4, the CERN in Switzerland announced that it with the highest probability had discovered the Higgs Boson when colliding particles in the Large Hadron Collider. Scientists are very cautious to say they had found the exact particle corresponding to the boson anticipated by e.g. Peter Higgs after whom the particle is named (many scientists have worked with the theories surrounding this, so the neutral name to use is the God Particle).

There is an energy field throughout the universe keeping it together, the Higgs Field. However, all energy and fields must result from interactions between particles (the strong and weak forces). This is advanced high school Physics, and to be fair I do not remember the exact names although I studied the two Physics courses available in Sweden just this autumn. Basically, the Higgs Field that keeps the universe together must come from the interactions of so far invisible particles, namely the Higgs Boson. The problem in detecting it has been that it is so neutral in all ways (no size, mass, nor charge) and that it exists in pure form for virtually no time before it reacts. Most of us simply know that the Higgs Boson is important, but few know much more. Hence, check this short video out, it is simple and even I can understand it:

So, the discovery of the God Particle is both a reversion (we look back in time at a theory from earlier periods) and a development (now we can build new theories upon the presumed knowledge that the particle indeed exists!).

Spain win the 2012 Euros

The Spanish national football team celebrate their third consecutive international gold medal!

On July 1, Spain beat Italy in the Euro 2012 final with a stunning 4-0. In the final minute of the game, the Spanish captain and goalkeeper Iker Casillas urged the referee to stop the game to respect Italy (who had an injured player after their third substitute, meaning they played with 10 men against 11). Spain had won the Euros in 2008 and the World Cup in 2010, and became historic to win a third consecutive international cup – yet a reversion!

Summer Olympics

Oscar Pistorius competing for South Africa.

The 2012 Summer Olympics in London were anticipated to be the threat of terrorist acts, but no such thing occurred and the Games were a success. Many moments to remember, but this guy, the South African Oscar Pistorius, will indeed be the one that I remember if any from the 2012 Games! Pistorius became historic as he is the first amputee to run at the Games and he is yet another symbol of hope in the games for peace.

First prototype eye transplant

Ophthalmology scientists at Bionic Vision Australia (a gathering of researchers from a number of institutions in Australia, including the University of Melbourne, the University of New South Wales, Bionic Institute, and Centre for Eye Research Australia) managed to implant a prototype pseudo-bionic eye into a patient on August 31. The patient, Ms Dianne Ashworth, was able to see flashes of light – with the help of 24 electrodes connecting her perception to the man-made eye.

Ms Ashwort, left, is examined.

Ms Ashworth lost her eyesight due to an inherited condition but was with the implant able to detect light stimulation. The implant is a device placed behind the retina and consists of 24 electrodes. A lead wire is drawn to an area behind the ear to which an apparatus can be placed in the laboratory to pick up any signals going through. That in addition to the patient’s own sensational feedback gives an image, literately, of what is going on. At this moment in time the use of a camera is not realistic but plans are under way to incorporate such technology in the next prototype. In a later prototype, the researches hope to use 98 or even the high-acuity 1024 electrodes instead of the initial 24.

I take Physics courses

Since I did not study Physics at high school – our IB program did not allow us to take the three sciences – I had to supplement my Swedish medical school application with the to required Physics courses (the latter course considered by many as the toughest course in Sweden together with Mathematics at the higher levels). I did so on a distance course which was incredibly hard because the only teacher’s support I had was via the telephone, which was useless. I only had my Physics books to use (and to some extent the internet) and the tests were 4 hours long (and I had tests once every two weeks apart from the final tests where I had several tests the same weekend) and were quite hard, I have to admit. However, thanks to writing good laboratory reports and passing even the tougher tests well, I managed to score A’s in both courses (in Sweden no A* exists) which were the highest grades. I was relieved, because at first I honestly believed that I would have problems even passing the courses since I had not studied Mathematics since the IB.

In the final telephone contact with my mentor, after the 12 weeks, she said that I was her best student and that little sign of appreciation really satisfied me. I felt I started to gear up and with A’s in both courses I kept my grade average at the highest possible in Sweden, making me a top competitor for the 150 places at the Karolinska Institute’s medical program.

Curiosity lands on Mars

The Curiosity rover on Earth.

Launched already in 2011, November, the Curiosity Mars Rover landed on Mars on August 6. It is far from the first machine to land on Mars, but it is the greatest breakthrough so far due to the advanced technology of the Rover and the possibilities of gathering very detailed and complex data. Curiosity is the so far largest rover to land on Mars, weighing in about a ton and the size of a 1960’s Beetle.

Neil Armstrong dies

The first person ever to walk on the Moon died on August 25. He left the legacy in a symbolical year, when we not only landed our most complex robot ever on Mars but also had a man jump from space and land safely on earth. One can say that he handed over the torch at the right moment. I am glad that he at least was alive when Curiosity landed on Mars, as a last thank you and sign that we, partially thanks to him, are expanding our borders outwards, toward the universe’s unknown. Below, a clip of the Moon landing:

The release of Martin Schibbye and Johan Persson – Swedish journalists in Ethiopian prison

The two journalists in Ethiopia, photo by Ethiopian officials.

On July 1, 2011, the two Swedish journalists Martin Schibbye and Johan Persson were arrested in the Ogaden area that is a conflicted area between Ethiopia and Somalia, de jure Ethiopian soil. They were sentenced to 11 years in Ethiopian prison because of having travelled with the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) which by Ethiopia is terrorist-stamped. They were in the area to report on conditions for refugees fleeing violence in the area and the possible connection to the Swedish Lundin Petroleum oil company. On December 27 they were sentenced, but applied for mercy and were released on September 10, 2012. Journalists Without Borders and human Rights Watch had urged for their release during the imprisonment. On September 11 they arrived in Sweden and were hailed by the whole of Sweden as heroes. In the aftermath, Swedish media reported that the evidence against the two journalists actually were counterfeited. The Ethiopian military forced the two to re-enact what happened to make it look like they were part of the terrorist group. A defector from the regime gave the Swedish broadcasting company SVT the unedited films, showing how the actors run around and joke while the journalists are threatened to death. This was big news in Sweden and abroad – but I hope the two are not forgotten and they continue to report on injustice in the world.

Johan and Martin on their first press conference back in Sweden.

The verdict of Anders Behring Breivik – mass murderer

On August 24, the Norwegian mass murderer Anders Behring Breivik who shot and bombed 77 people to death on July 22, 2011, was sentenced to the strictest punishment available in Norway – 21 years in prison with a minimum of 10 years. He was initially found mentally ill but that was later changed and as a healthy man, he can be held utterly responsible for his acts. The tribunal did not believe he acted on behalf of any group but acted by himself. I was in Oslo on July 22, 2012, to commemorate the victims of Utöya and the Oslo bombing (picture below) and I sympathise with the victims and their families. I condemn the actions of the terrorist and I urge governments around the world to stop talking about religious fundamentalism as the only terror threat, because rightist extremism is just as dangerous (and in the western world, perhaps even more dangerous).

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Me in Oslo at the Memorial Day of the Utöya Massacre.

I was glad to see that the terrorist got the full punishment and was held responsible for what he did. I am worried by his attempts to take on the role as a martyr and to seem calm in order to manipulate other rightists. In jail, he has kept a correspondence with admirers and if one searches Youtube one immediately find interviews of people supporting his acts. Fascists, racists, rightist extremist, militarists, and Nazis are big threats in the so called ‘civilised’ and ‘developed’ world. We must get to the roots of the causes to the emergence of people so desperate, sick, or stupid to think that is the way to go. It is often the rightists that take up guns in Europe and in North America, since they have no logical arguments or anything to add in the political debates – they are simply the scum of the earth, those who turn to primitiveness in this the age of development and human progress. But, I have no answers as how to stop human stupidity; according to Albert Einstein, only two things are truly infinite – human stupidity and the universe, and he is not sure about the universe.

The Innocence of Muslims causes uproar and violence

Uploaded on Youtube in July, the stupid film today known as The Innocence of Muslims caused violent uproar throughout the Muslim world beginning on September 11. The clips available on Youtube are only trailers and there should be a full-length film that has been shown only to about ten people. The man responsible for the film has been identified but I am not comfortable to point him out here. I think it is such as silly and stupid film, in such bad quality that Muslims unfortunately have sunk to the same level as the film maker when protesting against it. The worst thing is that extremists used this as some sort of leverage to attack what they conceive as anti-Muslim institutions, most known perhaps the killing of the US ambassador, Chris Stevens, in Libya. It is, as the Telegraph points out nothing but ”a school-boy-humour film showing men in fake beards making crude jokes about donkeys, religion and sex”. However, I can sympathise to some extent with people angered by the film because it many people identify themselves with their religions and hence take every religious criticism as personal criticism. I do not like when extremists use the rage of the people to attack institutions and to spread further hate, because the clips just are not worth the fuss, just like when the Swedish artist Lars Vilks’ painting of a roundabout dog portrayed to look like the Prophet Muhammed sparked violent protest in 2007. We do not learn, do we?

Nobel Prizes

The Nobel Prizes of 2012 were in October awarded to the following recipients (with my own comments, not the official nobel statements):

Physics: Serge Haroche and David J. Wineland for developing systems to manipulate and monitor quantum mechanic tendencies.

Chemistry: Robert Lefkowitz and Brian Kobilka for their discovery of G protein and the way cells communicate with substances in the body.

Medicine or Physiology: Shinya Yamanaka and Sir John Gurdon for their work with reversing cell differentiation and creating stem cells from matured cells.

Literature: Mo Yan for his writing in China, which did contain some criticism of the Chinese state and described conditions on the countryside.

Peace: the European Union for its efforts to contribute to peace and stability in Europe.

Economy: Alvin Roth and Lloyd Shapley for their work on how to most effectively match two parts to a whole.

The Leap from Space!

The single most time-stopping non-political event of the year has to be the leap from space of Felix Baumgartner on October 14. The event itself crushed three world records: the height of travel in a balloon, the skydive height, and the diving speed of human beings at 1.24 Mach – becoming the first human to break the sound barrier (1.0 Mach) without any machine equipment.

Felix Baumgartner taking the leap.

A great contrast to the religious quarrels all over the world such as the Innocence of Muslims  film, this scientific and human epitomisation of development shows us that we as human beings must modernise and while we can keep religion parallel to development, we must never let extremist religion go unhindered.

Hurricane Sandy

Thanks to modern technology and communication, at least in the US, Hurricane Sandy was well-anticipated and prepared for. For instance, New York was evacuated. Hence, very few died along the American eastern coast. However, in total, Sandy killed more than 200 people in the Bahamas, Canada, and the Caribbean.

Graphical representation of Hurricane Sandy.

Ironically, the otherwise injurious storm had great benefits for America because it probably strengthened the position of Barack Obama since he dealt with the hurricane very well and was praised even by Republican local politicians. However, another effect that was just as important was that Romney was forced to stall his his campaign as it would seem insensitive to continue debating when people are suffering and have had their homes destroyed.

Barack Obama re-elected

On November 5, after a year of campaigns, debates, speeches, fund-raising, and smear-campaigns the US elections took place a cold autumn day in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. Obama, who during his presidency introduced Obamacare, withdrew all official military troops from Iraq, and hunted Osama Bin Laden down had a lot to fall back on. However, the legacy from the irresponsible Bush administration had left Obama’s government in the backwaters and Obama had not fully succeeded to pull himself up from the swamp and hence the pro-business and anti-state-involvement Mitt Romney had everything to win.

Before falling back and awaiting the vote results, Obama went home to Chicago and made a surprise visit to a pro-Obama campaign facility, where he took up a phone and called registered Democrats who had not yet voted. Another smart PR trick from the loved President.

I followed the race passionately and was appalled by the frequent actions and words of Romney. He showed imbecile judgement when he trash-talked 48% of the US population for being dependent on state benefits and when he managed to piss half of Europe off during his Europe tour. He constantly changed his mind about certain questions and seemed unbelievably inauthentic – not the sort of treat an American President should have. But there was more than the personal qualities.

No, thank YOU!

The Democrats is a much more development-friendly party than the conservative Republicans, and in matters such as health, women’s rights, and religion, the Democrats benefited from the modernising social environment. Obama caught the interest and passion of younger generations by putting great effort into social media (his Facebook fan page is one of the most beautiful and structured ones I have ever seen), something which Romney had great problems with. Social media and the grass roots campaigns are virtually trademarked by Obama from the 2008 campaign. Romney as a politician and personality was outdated and old-fashioned, not the man to bring about change in an impatient but yet hopeful America. And yes, I cried when I heard that Obama had been re-elected! So happy!

Iron men – right extremist politicians from Parliament run around down town with iron pipes 

Quick summary of background: new racist party, Sweden Democrats, tries to paint a picture of itself as non-racist and having zero tolerance against racism – just weeks after the new zero-racism agenda a video of a two-year old event is released showing the party’s spokesmen for economy and law (and another member of the party board) first insulting a Kurdish-Swedish nation-known comedian and saying that ”this is not your country”. As a result, a drunk man steps in to defend the comedian and the politicians shove him and call him this and that. A young woman, 21 years old, steps in to tell them to stop because the man is obviously drunk. The call her a ”cunt”. Afterwards, they go away and grab iron pipes and begin to search for the drunk man with the aim of beating him with them. they only stop when they hear a police car in the distance.

Erik Almqvist (top left) and Kent Ekeroth (down left) in the film (right) with the iron pipes, searching for the drunk man to beat him up.

All this is filmed – by themselves – and they put an edited version of the film on the net so that it looks like they are attacked. However, on November 15 the evening paper Expressen publishes several articles and the full video showing what really went on that day. At first, all the involved politicians deny, but when the videos are published they suddenly say that ”do not remember” and that they were ”drunk”. Both step down from the party but none of them quit their Parliament positions, probably because of the high salary they receive there.

The worst thing is that their supporters all say that this is a one-time scandal, but there are frequently new stories popping up mostly of local politicians of the party uttering racist, sexist, anti-Semitic, anti-Muslim, or other misogynist and race-hating sayings. The party is in itself fascist and racist, but they try to trick the otherwise tolerant Swedish people to turn against non-ethnic Swedes. We are very worried about this, and we should be when we see that their absolute top politicians run around down-town with iron pipes to beat up a drunk and defenceless man who defended the comedian from them and their racism. Unfortunately they were not arrested for preparation of assault, but many reported them to the police for that and for racial agitation.

Xi Jinping elected new Party Leader in China

The Chinese party congress, the 18th Central Committee of the Communist Party of China, to replace Hu Jintao and the old leadership of the Communist Party went on parallel to the American elections and therefore fell a bit into the shadows in the west. On November 15, Xi was elected Secretary General of the Communist Party and Chairman of the Military Commission of the same. He spoke instantly in favour of reform and combating corruption and he is generally seen, even internationally, as a thoughtful and reform-friendly politician. I think the US sees him as an approachable leader with whom international cooperation can be enhanced and Sino-American relations improved greatly. He is not the man to bring about democracy in China, on the contrary he is indeed loyal to the party and to Communism. This man is not very known to us in the west, but his leadership will indeed shape the world just as much as the leadership of Obama, so hopefully the two will get along well…

Here is a 2-minute CNN reportage of Xi:

Operation Pillar of Defense launched by Israel against Palestine

As an attempt to curb the Palestinian launching of rockets toward Israeli cities, the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) launched Operation Pillar of Defense between November 14 and 17. It initiated by the killing of the leader of the militant wing of Hamas in Gaza (note that the political division between the West Bank and Gaza is a bit unclear), Ahmed Jabari. Israel blames Palestine for launching 100 rockets during a 24-hour period while Palestine means the occupation of its land justifies that. The number of injured and dead is always ambiguous, but if one balances Palestinian and Israeli statistics 2 Israeli soldiers and 4 civilians were killed while 75 Palestinian soldiers and 103 (UN numbers) civilians were killed. More unofficial numbers say about 1000 Palestinians were injured while about 250 Israelis were. Israel used its anti-rocket missiles to shoot down Palestinian rockets and used drone planes to bomb Palestine. Here is a clip whose validity I cannot confirm, but that allegedly shows the anti-rocket system in Israel:

Israel used drones to bomb about 1 500 sites in Gaza, which is a staggering bomb mat considering that Gaza is no bigger than 360 square kilometres. Perhaps one should note that in Gaza 1.6 million people live whereof 1.0 million of these are classified by the UN as refugees. Not soldiers of a formal army, but civilian refugees. Laying a bomb mat over an over-crowded Gaza strip that has no ability to defend itself (no top-modern bunkers or anti-rocket missile systems as Israel used to shoot down Palestinian rockets). As all tight and long-term conflict, especially those of religious nature, the prolongation of the Palestine-Israeli conflict will nothing but radicalise and polarise every belligerent for each extra day that passes. For every killed civilian there are 50 friends and relatives that are agitated. Luckily, this operation did not develop into that of 2008-9 during Operation Cast Lead when about 7 000 Palestinians were killed or injured and about 550 Israelis were killed or injured. Hence, yet another reversion of Israeli dominance and repression of Palestine.

Palestine made ”observer state” in the United Nations

On November 29, the UN General Assembly granted the State of Palestine a status as a ”non-member observer state”, a first and foremost symbolical move that many countries have gone through in order to eventually become a fully recognised UN nation (viz. South Korea, Bangladesh, Switzerland, and Italy). The only other country of ”observer” status is the Vatican State and the EU actually holds an ”observer” status as an international organisation. What this means in practice is that Palestine will be able to vote on procedural matters (NOT on resolutions), participate in debates, and hold speeches. This was possibly an act of sympathy from the international community with the Palestinian state due to Operation Pillar of Defense, and Israel immediately answered with the announcement that it was going to build and increase the Israeli settlements on Palestinian soil.

The Palestine chair – symbol of the state’s membership as observer state in the UN General Assembly.

I was personally hoping that the UN’s decision would bring about peace and discussion rather than an augmentation of violence. Now that Palestine holds a seat as an at least pseudo-member of the UN, Israel’s arbitrary attacks on the nation will be less justified since there is a big international forum where debates can be held, as opposed to bombs and constant retaliation.

Kyoto Protocol extended another 8 years/Typhoon Bophsa

On December 8, the Doha (Qatar) Conference on the Kyoto Protocol was re-ratified. The signing of the Protocol is one thing, but what is the real effect? One of the biggest polluters in the world is the US and they have not even signed the treaty (and is partially why many of the non-signatories have rejected the Protocol as useless), and hence the legitimacy of the Protocol must be questioned. In addition, one can only suspect that if this many countries have actually agreed to a deal that deal has to be weak – or is it just luck that all nations in the world have set apart economic interests in favour for the altruistic goal of saving the climate? No, the new Kyoto Protocol probably will not further green development.

Doha Conference in Qatar on the Kyoto Protocol.

Symbolically, a tropical storm named Typhoon Bophsa (or, Pablo) hit the Philippines and the Federated States of Micronesia and Palau simultaneously as the Doha Conference, killing over 1 000 people and injuring just as many. A memorable moment of the conference is when a delegate from the Philippines in his address to the other delegates broke down in crying when mentioning the typhoon, knowing his people were dying. And more of us should be crying. The rich nations in the world (OECDs) can dictate the terms and use the excuse that the poor countries must develop with the same low carbon emission as the big rich countries have to follow; thing is though that poor countries do not have the technology to drive industry forward with low carbon emissions, just as the Industrial Revolution and the 1900s caused ultra-high carbon emission in the developing countries in the West. If is indeed not fair that the rich and developed nations should demand that the poor and not-so developed must invest in the same environmentally friendly industry (which is more expensive) as the rich barely can afford (which is the cause to not sign the deal). End point of mine: the richer countries must allow the poorer to have higher carbon emissions in order to develop, but once they have acquired the necessary industrial and technological resources to drive a long-term and green agenda, then we can demand they keep the same standards as we do. Finally, this is also a throwback of progress – where have we come since the last Kyoto Protocol and where stand the US?

First direct photograph of DNA double helix

Scientists at the University of Genoa have managed to take a direct, real photography of the DNA strand. We have had approximate x-ray diffraction images of DNA for quite some time (the so called Photo 51 of DNA in ”B” form), but a photograph taken directly of the DNA has never been produced. But, on November 29, Italian scientists released this mesmerising, beautiful photograph, and as they say, a picture says more than a thousand words:

Copyright: Enzo di Fabrizio.

Me getting into medical school!

Now, the admissions results were scheduled for the afternoon of December 12. What a day, the 12th day of the 12 month of the 12th year of the second millennia. I was watching a Swedish week-long show called Musikhjälpen, or Music Relief, where three well-known personalities spend a week in a glass cage in a big city and send radio and TV non-stop. I was quite frankly not nervous, because I was so used to getting rejections that I was mentally prepared for yet another no. However, I was afraid that I was going to be rejected of yet another dream school because I did not know if I would say no to the other schools and reapply only to the Karolinska if I was rejected now the first time.

I got accepted by the Karolinska Institute!

I was listening to the song that was streamed, which was Karma Chameleon by Culture Club when I read that I was admitted. The relief that followed was a strange mix of feelings, both the happiness of getting in and the disappointment that I had to give up my England dream. However, overall I was much more happy than sad, and today I am absolutely super happy to start my education in a country I know well and in a healthcare system I know!

Gangnam Style reaches 1 000 000 000 (!) views on Youtube

Unbelievable.

Newtown school shooting

Another tragic school shooting, of a boy whose name is not worthy to be mentioned, occurred in Newtown, Connecticut, at Sandy Hook Elementary School. On December 14, the perpetrator shot 28 people fatally, 20 of whom where children. When will the stupid ”free” country of America finally realise that their gun laws are ridiculous? Stupid politicians call for more people to wear guns as they want more police and say that if more people carry guns, less violence will result. That is wrong and incredibly ignorant to say, because the more guns there are out there, the more mistakes will be made.

A police talking to a child in Newtown.

An example is Switzerland where all young men and women in the army take their automatic rifles and store them at home with 72 rounds of ammunition – and, Switzerland has the third highest murder rates by shootings per capita in the world. Also, the few bigger murder cases in Sweden involving shootings often involve people of the Home Guard who has stored weapons in their homes or have had access to army storages. The US and Barack Obama must introduce stricter gun laws and controls – otherwise we will see more violence. This is not the first big school shooting, and is just as big a tragedy as the previous one.

The end of the Wo… wait a minute!

We are still alive. End-of-the-World believers fell short. Again (how many times have religious freaks cried wolf?). And again (12/12). And yet again (21/12). We do not learn, after all…

Syria

There have been so much reporting on the civil war raging in Syria that I do not know where to start. It has been so much that I have become blind and do not understand the seriousness of the situation. I do not know the numbers – how many killed? how many injured? who? when? by whom? – and I do not see a straight road out. Even if Bashar al-Assad steps down, the warring factions within the nation and around its borders will carry such influence that the power vacuum that al-Assad would leave (and that exists even today) will lead to a prolonged war, no doubt about it. I become so sad when I see images of the war, where civilians take the hardest hits. Atrocities on both sides stain the country’s reputation and scares off potential foreign aid. Refugees flee in their thousands, but neighbouring countries are reluctant to accept too many people, afraid the conflict will spread. There are so many factors to this war but unfortunately it to us in the west seems to lie just in radio shadow, meaning we do not really know too much about what is going on and what the future holds. Perhaps somebody else can try to shed light upon it, so here is a 25-minute documentary from October last year:

There is a hopelessness in the news images that we receive now in 2012 and will receive in 2013 that frightens me. Where is the UN? Why is no country stepping in to help? And even if, what would ”help” mean? However, I am so proud of my former employer and my favourite organisation, Médecins Sans Frontières, that works in the country in secret hospitals in houses, basements, and ad hoc hospitals on Syria’s borders, see the picture below.

National and international staff of Médecins Sans Frontières working in secret hospitals and clinics in Syria and around its borders.

I admire the staff that go there to help, be it the Red Cross/Crescent/Half Moon or be it the UN; perhaps showing the Syrian people that we, the international community, care can help bring about some stability, or even just a armistice or a cease-fire, that opens up a window of opportunity to bring about a serious dialogue and another platform for conflict but the streets. I cannot believe that yet another country has fallen into civil war, where brother is turned against brother, because we have fallen into this trap so many times before.

Reversion, was the word?

***

History repeats itself, be it revolution and civil war in unstable states, Nazism re-emergencing, or school shootings. We never learn from our mistakes, it seems. However, apart from all the set-backs and stagnation out there, a lot of progress has been made! We landed the biggest and most complex robot rover on Mars so far, had a man leap from space, and indicted a war criminal for his crimes. We are not solely primitive creatures that live in viscous circles, although at times it is hard to not be that cynic as to think so.

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