The year brought its share of shocks across the water, from the UK's Jimmy Savile scandal to Superstorm Sandy in the US - but Newtown overshadowed them all
At a midnight screening of The Dark Knight Rises at a cinema in Aurora, Colorado, as hundreds of people, some dressed as characters from the film, settled into their seats, smoke bombs were detonated and gunfire broke out. James Holmes (24), a former University of Colorado graduate student, is awaiting trial, accused of killing 12 people and wounding 50 others at the screening. Among the dead were a six-year-old girl, a 27-year-old celebrating his birthday and an aspiring sports broadcaster who missed by minutes being on the scene of a Toronto mall shooting earlier in the summer.
G'day for women everywhere
Within seconds of Australian prime minister Julia Gillard's 15-minute smackdown of opposition leader Tony Abbott in October, people were already speculating about a possible movie version starring Jodie Foster.
Women across the world cheered as she excoriated Abbot, skewering him with repeated examples of his "sexism and misogyny". Gillard was responding to a motion tabled by Abbott to sack speaker Peter Slipper over lewd text messages. But for the global viewer it wasn't about Abbott. In her blistering speech Gillard seemed to speak for every woman who has ever had to endure casual sexism, misogyny or gender-based discrimination.
She didn't realise what a fuss would be made of the speech - 2.2 million YouTube hits and counting - until she sat down and told a colleague she was going to finish some correspondence. "Yeah, you can't really give the 'I accuse' speech and settle back and do your correspondence," he rightly pointed out.
Highlights, of which there were several, include: "If he [ Abbott] wants to know what misogyny looks like in modern Australia, he doesn't need a motion in the House of Representatives, he needs a mirror."
Four more years
The components were hardly promising. Obama's superstitious digital team had given no thought to a victory plan, so in the early hours after election day, it was left to an exhausted staffer to pick the caption, "Four more years", to accompany a four-month-old campaign picture of a heartfelt , presidential hug. But the two combined sang to Obama supporters of sweet relief and celebration and they made it the most retweeted and favourited in Twitter history. For Romney's side, the misery was compounded when his team mistakenly hit "publish" on its transition (to presidency) website.
Army of followers
This year, the list of potential recipients for your unsolicited tweets expanded to include a new category: armed groups with whom you are at war.
In late 2012, the Israeli army launched yet another offensive against Hamas in the Gaza Strip. As pointless rounds of bloodletting in the region tend to go, this was to prove (if nothing else) the most social-media savvy to date.
On November 14th, the official Israeli Defence Forces account (@IDFSpokesperson) tweeted a recommendation that "no Hamas operatives . . . show their faces above ground in the days ahead". Hamas's armed wing @AlqassamBrigade immediately tweeted back a warning: "Our blessed hands will reach your leaders and soldiers wherever they are (You Opened Hell Gates on Yourselves)".
As it happened, there was more than a hint of bluster on both sides. The military skirmish petered out within a week. But the social-media exchange did, at least, prove the custodians of one of the world's oldest, most intractable and divisive conflicts are continuing to find new and innovative ways to insult each other.
Members of political punk band Pussy Riot became a cause celebre when they were tried for hooliganism after dancing on the altar of Moscow's Cathedral of Christ the Saviour. The group are long-time critics of Vladimir Putin's government, and in August two of its members, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Maria Alyokhina, were sentenced to two years in prison, a terrifyingly steep sentence for causing some offence. Amnesty has designated them prisoners of conscience. Putin's government is increasingly clamping down on free speech and dissent.
Since the terrible revelations about Jimmy Savile were broadcast in an ITV documentary in October, Scotland Yard has questioned other well-known personalities as part of its Operation Yewtree investigation, including radio presenter Dave Lee Travis, comedian Freddie Starr and PR man to the stars Max Clifford.
With more entertainment figures - nearly all men in their 60s and 70s - under investigation, we are being confronted with the dark side of the light entertainment world of the past.
Taliban targets teenager Malala Yousafazi
In the Taliban-controlled Swat Valley, back in 2008, Pakistani army gunships roared across the skies, while the mutilated corpses of anyone who defied the militants' edicts were frequently found dumped in public squares. It was against this backdrop of horrific violence that young Malala Yousafazi became one of Pakistan's best known education activists.
A headmaster's daughter, with ambitions to become a doctor, Malala spoke out fearlessly against the Taliban's ban on female education, first in a BBC blog, and later in a New York Times documentary.
As her profile increased, so did the threats against her.
On October 9th this year, Taliban gunmen boarded a school bus on which Malala was travelling and shot her in the head.
Miraculously, the 15-year-old survived and she is currently recuperating in the UK. She has since been tipped to receive the Nobel Peace Prize.
When Nicholas Sarkozy and Carla Bruni were evicted from the Elysee Palace in May, one might have assumed the French presidency was about to lose its showbiz elan. Far from it. A month later, a careless tweet by president Francois Hollande's first lady, Paris Match journalist Valerie Trierweiler (right), blew the lid off a decades-old romantic rivalry with Hollande's ex-partner, former presidential candidate Segolene Royal.
The longstanding animosity between the two women finally came to light on June 12th, when Trierweiler tweeted her support for Royal's opponent in the country's parliamentary elections.
On December 14th, the world was stunned by news of a horrific mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newton, Connecticut. Twenty-seven people, including 20 children, lost their lives in what would soon be confirmed as the worst school shooting in US history.
Amid widespread revulsion at the slaughter of innocent children, there was admiration too for the heroism of their teachers. Vicki Soto, who died shielding her pupils from the gunman's bullets. Kaitlin Roig, who saved 15 children, by herding them into a tiny bathroom and barricading the door.
"I told the kids I loved them and I was happy they were my students," she said. "I wanted that to be the last thing they heard, not the gunfire in the hallway."
At a memorial event the next day, US president Barack Obama conceded that the US wasn't doing enough to protect its children. His despair appeared genuine. But whether he seriously intended to tackle the thorny issue of gun control in his second term remains to be seen.
Naked monarchs are often used as a metaphor for delusion. However, the tabloid images of Prince Harry playing naked strip-billiards suggests the ginger prince was quite aware he was in the nip.
Clutching his man-parts in a Las Vegas hotel room with a lady hiding playfully behind him, this image was public service journalism at its best, showing us that the royals are sometimes naked too (I had no idea). Pictures of Kate Middleton’s breasts, on the other hand, are a treasonous invasion of privacy.
In 2011 the UK and Ireland became BFF (best friends forever) after a royal visit. Henceforth it was acceptable for Irish folk to wave Union Jacks at celebratory tea-parties. Many did just this in June to celebrate Queen Elizabeth II’s 50-year rule (they turned up on radio programmes to gleefully tell us so).
Meanwhile UK media repeatedly marvelled at the sight of a wealthy woman in her eighties waving and being coolly polite. “Isn’t she marvellous,” they said, as though she had just done a backflip to save an orphan from a bear.
To be fair, she is very good at waving and being coolly polite. Remarkable woman.
Nasdaq likes Facebook
Until this year, the benchmark for a badly handled company flotation (at least for Irish people) has been the privatisation of eircom nearly 20 years ago. The Facebook IPO left it in the ha’penny place.
On the May day it went public, shares in the most social of networks were valued at $38. This meant the company was worth $104 billion. But not for long. It lost 50 per cent of its value in 12 weeks as share prices fell below $18.
Then it rallied dramatically and, in December, shares were $27.71, which will no doubt help early Facebook investor Bono to sleep at night in the new year.
So to recap: K Middy took her top off while sunbathing with her husband in a private chateau in France in September and an “enterprising” paparazzo took pictures which ended up in Closer Magazine which were then reproduced here by the Irish Daily Star. This was not seen universally as a despicable act, with many taking the position that what with her being married to a future king she should pretty much expect to have no privacy whatsoever, even on the balcony of a friend’s very private home.
Some even suggested that going topless is something she should not be doing at all – even presumably in her bedroom – given her royal status. However, one is inclined to agree with UK columnist Lucy Mangan who wrote at the time: “The Middletonian mammaries are nobody’s business but her own.”
Of course, since then the headline-grabbing action of Topless Kate Middleton has been eclipsed by that of Preggers Kate Middleton. The next six months are going to be such “fun”.
It was one of the most arresting images from the start of the year: the Costa Concordia, a cruise ship the size of a block of flats, listing to one side while the attempted evacuation of 4,252 passengers and crew got underway. The final death toll was 32, and the debate as to how the 114,500 tonne ship ended up hitting rocks off the Tuscan island of Giglio last January is still ongoing.
The ship had just left the Italian port of Civitavecchia when she hit a reef causing a 160ft gash in her hull. Francesco Schettino, its captain, later dubbed Captain Coward for leaving the ship, is facing possible manslaughter charges amid allegations he steered the liner too close to the rocks during a “salute”. Schettino has defended his actions saying the tragedy was “an accident not a crime”.
It is June 7th and Ilias Kasidiaris, a newly elected MP from Greece’s far right Golden Dawn party, is taking part in a heated debate on live television. When the subject of Kasidiaris’s alleged involvement in a 2007 armed robbery is raised, the former Special Forces soldier snaps.
First he flings the contents of a glass of water across the table into the face of leftist opponent Rena Dourou. When Liana Kanelli, a 58-year-old Communist Party MP seated to his left, attempts to intervene, Kasidiaris (now on his feet) strikes her three times in the face with considerable force. The show’s host, meanwhile, appears torn between protecting his guest and preserving his own safety.
Greece was already in the grips of a financial cataclysm. With the emergence of the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn as a significant electoral force (it received 441,000 votes in the previous month’s election) the country now appeared to be staring into the abyss, politically, too.
“It was like a scene from a horror film,” wrote Ines Novacic from New York for The Irish Times last month when the headlines were dominated by Sandy and the accompanying storms: “A young mother forced to abandon her car with two young children as floodwater threatened to drown them.”
Donegal-born Damien Moore and his wife Glenda lost their two sons, four-year-old Connor and two-year-old Brandon, when Glenda’s car was stranded in the storm.
Sandy killed at least 125 people, most of them in New York and New Jersey. The other legacy was €62 billion dollars in damages, making it the second most destructive storm in US history, after Hurricane Katrina in 2005. About 600,000 homes and half a million businesses were damaged or destroyed. There was a flurry of fake apocalyptic-looking photographs online and, more recently, a Nirvana reunion at a benefit concert at Madison Square Garden, with Paul McCartney taking the place of Kurt Cobain.
The butler did it
Paolo Gabriele, the former butler to Pope Benedict XVI was found guilty of leaking confidential documents from the pontifical apartment to journalists. Dubbed Vati-leaks, his judiciously placed material revealed power struggles over money laundering, and portrayed the Vatican as a hotbed of jealousy, intrigue and clerical skullduggery. In a super-fast trial sadly devoid of gossipy tidbits about life in the Holy See, the butler was convicted and sentenced to 18 months in prison. As there is no prison in the Vatican City, he was placed under house arrest before being moved to a cell at the Vatican City’s one police station.
Gore Vidal was one of the US’s truly great writers and thinkers. A lifelong Democrat, he wrote political commentary with a razor-sharp edge, lamenting the decline and fall of the American empire. He was also a libertine who had affairs with both men and women, and shocked the nation with the unabashed homosexual content of his his early novels, leading him to be labelled America’s answer to Oscar Wilde.
Prank turned tragedy
It started out as a stupid prank. On December 4th, Australian radio hosts Michael Christian and Mel Grieg placed a call to London’s King Edward VII hospital pretending to be Queen Elizabeth and Prince Charles. To their surprise, they managed to obtain an update on the condition of Charles’s pregnant daughter-in-law, the Duchess of Cambridge, who was a patient at the hospital. Three days later, Jacintha Saldanha, the nurse who mistakenly patched the call through to the duchess’s ward, took her own life.
To some observers, it was a tragedy indicative far more of the fawning hysteria that surrounds the British royal family than it was of any malicious intent on the part of the two hapless Australian DJs.
Nonetheless, the pair were hauled before the cameras to account for their actions. Asked to recall the moment she learned of nurse Saldanha’s death, a clearly devastated Grieg said she could still think of nothing else. “My first question was, ‘Was she a mother?’ ” she said. (Saldanha left behind a son and an adopted daughter.)
In a country that idolises its soldiers almost as much as it mistrusts its politicians, General David Petraeus was revered, on both sides of the political divide, as one of the finest military minds of his generation.
In Iraq, his 2007 “surge” was credited with having helped the US snatch a score draw from the jaws of ignominious defeat.
Meanwhile at home, Fox News chief executive Roger Ailes had reportedly offered to bankroll a 2012 presidential bid. Yet for all that, David Petraeus had always came across as a deeply boring man.
All that changed on November 9th, when Petraeus stepped down as CIA director, in a sex scandal that featured a cast of characters including an ambitious biographer, a shirtless FBI officer, a buxom Florida socialite, her troubled identical twin sister and the Commander of Nato forces in Afghanistan. For the once vanilla general, this was a scandal that could have been lifted from an episode of The Jerry Springer Show.