Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Decade in Review

I contribute to the Daily Wildcat's Decade in Review issue, which was an interesting issue. (A shame it didn't have campus stories.) Of the four entries I wrote, only one made it to print while another was misattributed to me mistakenly. The rest went unpublished for various reasons too mundane to mention. Here's what I wrote:

Top National Stories - Contested Election of 2000

While this was not the most contested presidential election in U.S. history — that honor goes to the 1876 election between Rutherford Hayes and Samuel Tilden — the 2000 election was significant for several reasons.

It saw a major shift in the judicial branch’s power. Despite numerous media organizations declaring Democratic candidate and then-vice president Gore as the winner based on exit polls, by the end of Nov. 7, 2000, the U.S. still had no clear winner in the presidential race. It became clear that the contest hinged on the winner of the popular vote in Florida.

Gore called for a hand recount. The multiple legal moves left a nation of voters, many of whom had voted for the first time in a national election, anxiously awaiting a decision. The U.S. Supreme Court eventually ruled 5-4 that the recount was unconstitutional, and could not be completed in time for the second deadline extension.

In the end, the U.S. had a new president, George W. Bush, who would have a profound impact on the decade, regalvanized Democratic and Republican parties and a new generation that discovered that every vote matters.

Economic Collapse(s)

The current economic depression was not the first time the U.S. and the world faced a series of events that led to an economic crisis. The dot-com bubble of 2000-2001 resulted from certain converging factors. It came at the end of a series of economic crises that began in 1997, albeit they came from Asia and Russia. The upcoming completion of the Human Genome Project brought the promise of customized medicine, and gave rise to biotech companies that operated like their e-commerce counterparts. (Remember the term, “e-commerce”?) The Internet Tax Freedom Act of 1998 barred taxes on broadband and online commerce, which encouraged the spread of Internet availability.

Just as the U.S. began its first steps of economic recovery under the leadership of George W. Bush, Sept. 11 happened. Nationwide travel, and the subsequent flow of trade and commerce, came to a grinding halt. Bush encouraged the American public to spend and then-Chairman of the Federal Reserve Alan Greenspan lowered interest rates to match. With the free availability of credit, one market that remained untapped and connected to America’s desire to not travel was housing. Predatory lending and subprime mortgages resulted in the collapse of various national and global banks, which has led the U.S. and world to their present economic situation.

Top National Trends - Obesity

Of all the health issues this decade, obesity has dominated the news like no other. Since the late 1980s, the prevalence of overweight and obese grade school children has almost tripled, according to the latest data from the CDC. The rate of adult obesity among states has reached at least 20 percent with some counties seeing rates close to 45 percent.

Obesity has been linked to such chronic diseases as various cancers, heart disease and type 2 diabetes. What used to be seen primarily in middle-aged adults and was almost unheard of in children under the age of 20 has become increasingly common among children this past decade. In an effort to control this preventable disease, public health organizations have focused their efforts on childhood obesity, calling it an epidemic.

Wanda Howell, a UA distinguished professor and director of the nutritional science department, said Americans need to make fundamental changes in how they approach the issue of obesity.

“The change in eating behavior, the cultural shift if you will, has to happen at a very young age,” she said. “So pregnant women and young children really, in my view, need to be the focus if we are to change our American cultural heritage of this land of abundance with no reality check relative to good nutrition and weight control.”

WTF Moments - Pluto No Longer a Planet

Pluto has always been the misfit of our solar system since its 1930 discovery by Clyde Tombaugh. Its orbit is inclined relative to every other planet in our Solar System. Whereas the other planets have circular orbits centered on the Sun, Pluto has a highly elliptical, off-center orbit that takes 248 Earth years to complete.

So when better equipment detected new astronomical objects within our solar system that rival Pluto in size, the International Astronomical Union decided to discuss the fate of Pluto’s status as a planet at its August 2006 conference in Prague.

After much heated debate, the International Astronomical Union adopted new guidelines as to what defined a planet. This led to a vote that demoted Pluto’s status as a planet and reclassified it as a “dwarf planet.” Based on the new criteria, what ultimately disqualified Pluto as a planet was that its orbit overlaps that of Neptune — a charge, critics argue, that could also be brought against Earth. In the end, the Solar System was left with one less planet and one more world of broken hearts.

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