What a "Chock Full O'News" Week!

Sunday, February 24, 2013
[NOTE: my bout of "procrastinitus" continues but I could not allow the events of the past seven days go by without commenting.  BTW, this is my 100th published post--a milestone that I should have attained much sooner.]

Consumers of news, like me, understand that there are periods of "feast and famine" concerning the pace of national and international events.  The week of February 11-18, 2013 might go down as one of the busiest of the year and no portion of the information spectrum was neglected (which was very appreciated by the cable news and newspaper outlets).  Here's a breakdown of what transpired last week.

MONDAY (February 11, 2013)

After I went out to get the paper out in the front yard, I scanned the front page before preparing my breakfast.  The Dayton Daily News' headline focused on President Obama's upcoming State of the Union address and featured other stories about increasing the state's reading standards in elementary school and the recent death of Chris Kyle (retired Navy SEAL and author of American Sniper) at the hands of a fellow veteran suffering from post-traumatic distress syndrome, or PTSD.  It wasn't until I turned on the kitchen television that I found out about one of the biggest stories of recent history--the abdication of a sitting pope.  In a totally unexpected moment at a Vatican meeting, Pope Benedict XVI made the following announcement (translated from its original Latin, which further abetted its mystery to the press):

Dear Brothers,

I have convoked you to this Consistory, not only for the three canonizations, but also to communicate to you a decision of great importance for the life of the Church. After having repeatedly examined my conscience before God, I have come to the certainty that my strengths, due to an advanced age, are no longer suited to an adequate exercise of the Petrine ministry.

I am well aware that this ministry, due to its essential spiritual nature, must be carried out not only with words and deeds, but no less with prayer and suffering. However, in today’s world, subject to so many rapid changes and shaken by questions of deep relevance for the life of faith, in order to govern the barque of Saint Peter and proclaim the Gospel, both strength of mind and body are necessary, strength which in the last few months, has deteriorated in me to the extent that I have had to recognize my incapacity to adequately fulfill the ministry entrusted to me.

For this reason, and well aware of the seriousness of this act, with full freedom I declare that I renounce the ministry of Bishop of Rome, Successor of Saint Peter, entrusted to me by the Cardinals on 19 April 2005, in such a way, that as from 28 February 2013, at 20:00 hours, the See of Rome, the See of Saint Peter, will be vacant and a Conclave to elect the new Supreme Pontiff will have to be convoked by those whose competence it is.

Dear Brothers, I thank you most sincerely for all the love and work with which you have supported me in my ministry and I ask pardon for all my defects. And now, let us entrust the Holy Church to the care of Our Supreme Pastor, Our Lord Jesus Christ, and implore his holy Mother Mary, so that she may assist the Cardinal Fathers with her maternal solicitude, in electing a new Supreme Pontiff. With regard to myself, I wish to also devotedly serve the Holy Church of God in the future through a life dedicated to prayer.

At 85 years of age, the former Joseph Ratzinger has served as 265th Bishop of Rome and leader of the Catholic Church since being elevated to his current position in April 2005.  An even rarer event than the replacement of a pope due to death, the abdication of a sitting pontiff has not occurred since Pope Gregory XII resigned his post back in 1415 (and Benedict will be only the tenth to do so since Saint Peter founded the Catholic Church in the 1st century).  The speculation started almost immediately on who would ascend to the leadership of the world's more than one billion Catholics, pitting the European cardinals against those in the developing world (Africa, South America) and even from the United States (although selecting an American is considered a long shot).  News organizations immediately deployed reporters to Vatican City to provide the latest information for their readers and viewers to digest on this certainly once-in-a-(recent) lifetime event.

TUESDAY (February 12, 2013)

Another overnight event (late Monday evening Eastern Standard Time) almost derailed the anticipated showcase event of the day--the annual State of the Union Address.  For the past several weeks, North Korea had been foreshadowing its willingness to conduct its third nuclear test and, at a little before midday Korea Standard Time, a magnitude 5.1 seismic event occurred in a mountain range in very close proximity to their two earlier tests.  North Korean officials, through broadcast media, announced the test to the world and, in an almost reflexive action, the United States condemned this "extremely regrettable act" through its United Nations ambassador, Susan Rice.  While a notable event, most of the discussions on the morning cable news shows revolved about how President Obama might "shoehorn" this latest provocation to US national and Asian regional security into his upcoming address (which, one one channel, had a "countdown" clock superimposed on the screen to allow political "junkies" to plan their day around this later activity).

An on-going Southern California manhunt, reaching its climatic ending in the late afternoon/early evening hours, nearly had the president making his Capitol Hill speech in a split-screen fashion.  Christopher Dorner, a former Los Angeles Police Department officer and the primary suspect in three recent homicides, was the subject of a wide-area law-enforcement search since the publication of a "manifesto" on his personal Facebook page earlier in the month that was attributed to his 2008 termination from the LAPD for filing a false police report against his training officer (his appeal in 2010 failed).  Since the beginning of the month, stories about Dorner's case (and his then-current criminal actions) filled many hours of cable news and talk radio programming.  A flood of sighting claims flooded in from all across the southern portion of the state but the latest one had him in the area of Big Bear Lake.  Officers identified him and trapped him inside a cabin near Angelus Oaks where, in a protracted gun battle, Dorner took the life of a fourth individual.  Totally surrounded and occupying a now-burning building, the 33-year old Navy veteran took his own life (an autopsy conducted the next day indicated that he died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound).  Fortunately for the White House, all of that commotion concluded about an hour prior to the president's speech.

At a little after 9PM EST, President Obama delivered his 2013 State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress.  Like most of the other speeches given by him and his predecessors, it contained a "laundry list" of goals and objectives that the White House would like to see accomplished in the coming 12 months.  Subjects such as foreign policy, debt and deficit reduction, jobs, infrastructure and immigration--an issue that seemed, up through the weekend, to be one that might be achieved--were highlighted; however, less than two months removed from the tragic school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, nearly everyone was anticipating to hear what the president wanted to propose on the issue of guns.  Several guests from both sides of this on-going debate were invited to attend the speech, to include the parents of Hadiya Pendleton (the 15-year old who was gunned down in Chicago less than one week after performing at the presidential inauguration), Gabby Giffords (the former Arizona congresswoman who was nearly assassinated at a Tucson shopping mall in January 2010), and Ted Nugent (rock guitarist and vocal critic of gun restrictions--and the Obama administration as a whole).  In an emotional plea, the president ended his speech by telling Congress that the families of the victims of gun violence "deserve a simple vote" on measures proposed by Vice President Biden's gun violence task force, chartered in the immediate aftermath of the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre when 26 people--including 20 first-grade students--were killed by a lone gunman with an assault rifle.

As is the modern custom, a rebuttal to Obama's speech immediately followed the conclusion of the president's remarks.  In an even newer twist (ever since the creation of the "Tea Party" movement back in 2010), there are now two opposing points-of-view offered to the Democratic president's address.  Following in the footsteps of Minnesota representative Michele Bachmann and former Godfather's Pizza CEO (and current radio talk show host) Herman Cain, Rand Paul, Kentucky senator and son of 2012 Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul, provided that new group's unique perspectives on big government and excessive spending (where he called out BOTH parties for their current practices but saved most of his vitriol for the president).  His remarks followed what was the most awaited speaker of the evening, Florida's freshman Republican senator Marco Rubio, and the GOP's rebuttal to the State of the Union.  Although he did not stray far from the party's talking points on the issues of the day, it was his actions in front of the camera that lit up social media and produced a trove of internet memes.  At around the 11-minute point of his 14-minute speech, Rubio unexpectedly lurched to his left to retrieve a small bottle of water to rehydrate himself while maintaining eye contact with the television audience.  After a small swig, he finished the rest of his address without further aqueous incidents but the party's Latino face on immigration reform and potential 2016 presidential candidate had continued the streak of famous "flubs" by Republican politicians in that rebuttal role.  Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal's "Kenny the Page" rendition in 2009, Virginia governor (for 12 days) Bob McDonnell's "frame of diversity" in 2010, Wisconsin representative (and 2012 vice presidential candidate) Paul Ryan's "fact-challenged" attempt in 2011 and Indiana governor Mitch Daniels' "gloom and doom" oration in 2012 were all panned by the media and this year's edition will certainly fall into that category (although it did not meet the level of surrealism of Bachmann's inability to look into the correct camera for her 2011 appearance).

WEDNESDAY (February 13, 2013)

Relatively quiet (in comparison to the rest of the week) but Pope Benedict, fresh off of his abdication announcement, celebrated his final public mass as pontiff for Ash Wednesday services at St. Peter's Basilica in Rome and authorities in California were still trying to positively identify the body found inside the charred cabin near Big Bear Lake to end speculation that Christopher Dorner might still be on the loose.

THURSDAY (February 14, 2013)

Late Thursday evening, the Carnival Cruise Lines ship Triumph docked in Mobile, Alabama, ending a nearly week-long odyssey out in the Gulf of Mexico.  Over 4,200 passengers and crew members were left stranded on a powerless ship crippled after a fire in its engine room disabled the propulsion system and most electrical service four days earlier while off Mexico's Yucatan peninsula.  Tugboats arrived the following day and, due to the distance it drifted, officials decided to bring the boat back to the Alabama location instead of its departure/arrival port of Galveston, Texas.  In the wake of last year's fatal cruise accident off the Italian cost, much media attention was drawn to these rescue activities; however, what garnered the most over-the-top headlines were the increasingly worsening sanitation conditions as well as Lord of the Flies-like actions by some passengers concerning the distribution of food and other supplies airdropped by Carnival throughout the retrieval process.  Since the ship was well away from shore-based cellphone towers, very few first-hand accounts of those austere circumstances were available to the press so a phalanx of reporters and camera crews were on-hand for Triumph's docking.  Several folks were seen falling to their knees and kissing the ground once back on dry land and many faced the prospect of an ensuing 7-hour bus ride to Galveston to retrieve their vehicles or to make arrangements to return to their homes.

A less sensational dry land event also played out for the cameras on Thursday afternoon when the US Senate filibustered the nomination of former Nebraska senator Chuck Hagel to be head of the Defense Department, replacing current Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta.  By a nearly party line vote (58 yes to 40 no--Utah's Orrin Hatch voted "present" and Louisiana's David Vitter, one of Hagel's most vocal critics, missed the vote just like he did for the initial one in committee), Senate Republicans generated enough support to block a simple majority up-or-down vote from reaching the floor.  Hagel, a Republican, is seen by many of his former colleagues as not the best choice for the job of running the Pentagon and its over 3 million members (his poor performance before the Senate Armed Services Committee two weeks earlier lent plentiful substance to those claims).  Some media members speculated that delaying this confirmation vote would allow more time for opposition research to unearth detrimental information to enter into evidence.  During an interview on Fox News, Arizona senator (and 2008 Republican presidential candidate) John McCain stated that there might be personal reasons to enact this historic delay (Hagel was an outspoken critic of President George W. Bush and his policies).  However, the most vocal rationale presented for this block was related to the September 2012 attack on the US consulate in Benghazi, Libya, specifically demanding to know the president's actions during that terrorist siege which resulted in four Americans losing their lives, to include US ambassador Chris Stevens.  Prior to the vote, the White House counsel's office sent a letter to McCain, South Carolina senator Lindsey Graham and New Hampshire senator Kelly Ayotte that provided additional details but it did not sway their opinions--or their votes--in the Senate chamber.  Despite all of these "DC kabuki" antics, Hagel is expected to win nomination when the Congress reconvenes next week but, in the eyes of administration opponents, he will be a very weak secretary and serve as a visible reminder of President Obama's hapless judgment on national security issues.

FRIDAY (February 15, 2013) 

While most of the world's eyes were fixated skyward in anticipation of a predicted "near miss" by a 150-foot asteroid later in the day, it was another celestial intruder in the early morning (Yekaterinburg Time) that attracted most of the press' attentionAt approximately 9:20AM, a meteor (now believed to be 55 feet long and weighing 10,000 tons) fell in the vicinity of Chelyabinsk in the Ural Mountains region of Russia.  As it reacted with the atmosphere, it released nearly 500 kilotons of energy--a figure 30 times greater than the atomic explosion that leveled the Japanese city of Hiroshima near the end of World War II.  Traveling at approximately 40,000 miles per hour when it exploded, the extraterrestrial body generated a shock wave that blasted out doors and windows in more than 4,000 buildings in the city and surrounding areas (and repairs were started nearly immediately in a region where seasonal temperatures average well below freezing).  As seen in the clip provided above, the meteor provided a spectacular light show that was captured by a variety of mobile and stationary cameras and those views provided video footage on nearly every news program that I saw in the immediate aftermath.  I guess I can modify the old media adage "if it bleeds, it leads" by saying "if it glows, it goes".

SATURDAY (February 16, 2013)

After the cataclysm on display the day prior, Saturday was a rather quiet 24-hour period, with many news outlets catching up and providing more detailed follow-ups on the week's earlier headline-grabbing events.

SUNDAY (February 17, 2013)

I normally do not venture into the sporting or entertainment worlds for journalistic material (it's mostly an "escape valve" from the more serious things that normally occupy my time) but Sunday's time trials in Daytona, Florida had one of those "milestone" days that will be looked back upon for years to come.   Unlike the "separate but (somewhat) equal" scheme that segregates the men's and women's sports throughout most of the world, auto racing puts both genders behind the wheel on the same track at the same time and, last Sunday, a woman won the pole position for the first time at a major racing event.  Danica Patrick, more widely known for her GoDaddy.com commercials, turned in the fastest qualifying lap for the 2013 Daytona 500, NASCAR's preeminent race of their 36-event schedule.  Completing one circuit around the 2.5-mile tri-oval in 45.817 seconds (for an average speed of 196.43 miles per hour), she edged out four-time Sprint Car Series and three-time Daytona 500 winner Jeff Gordon by 33 thousandths of a second to claim the top position among the 43 drivers who will take the starter's flag on February 24th.  Patrick, a recent convert to stock car racing, has already been a trailblazer in motor sports, being the first woman to lead laps at the Indianapolis 500 (she finished in third place overall in 2009) and the first to win an Indy Car race (the Indy Japan 300) in April 2008.  She won the pole position for last year's Nationwide Series DRIVE4COPD 300 at the Daytona racetrack, being the second woman to record that feat (Shawna Robinson won the pole for 1994's Busch Light 300 race at the Atlanta Motor Speedway).  With only nine winners of the previous 55 Daytona 500 races starting from the pole position (the last being Dale Jarrett back in 2000), the odds are not good for her to actually win the race but her qualifying accomplishment can be seen as a major step of the acceptance of women in a sport long dominated by men.

P.S.  All in all, a very busy week went by and there were even more events that what I brought up above (the shooting death of South African paralympic athlete Oscar Pistorius' girlfriend on Valentine's Day, the tragic suicide of country music entertainer Mindy McCready) that capped off a 7-day period that should've motivated me to immediately jump back into the blogging "saddle".  Frustratingly, it's taken me nearly a week to write this single entry (I'm finishing it up while watching the Academy Awards broadcast).  When will this "slump" ever end?

No comments:

Post a Comment