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The Year in Review

by The Staff on December 24, 2013

 

The bell tower of St. Patrick’s Church in Watervliet, photo by Ann Morrow

 

Obamacare agonistes

Passing the Affordable Care Act was torture. Getting it through the courts was torture. Dealing with a massive wave of right-wing, anti-Obamacare propaganda was torture. But those struggles were to be expected. The rollout of the plan itself was supposed to go well—and it was a disaster. Jeez, Obama: Why didn’t you just subcontract the job to Amazon?

A tragedy in Boston

In April, just hundred of yards from the finish line, two pressure cooker bombs exploded. Three were killed and hundreds were rushed to area hospitals. Panic ensued, and websites like Reddit help spawn several online witch hunts for those responsible (these also resulted in wrongly identifying several innocent people). A FBI investigation focused in on two Chechen brothers, Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev, to be key suspects. A manhunt threw the city and surrounding areas into a full-on lockdown, which eventually left Tamerlan dead and Dzhokhar in police custody.

Sip on this

For the first two weeks of October, the United States federal government shut down after Congress failed to pass legislation to determine how to fund its operations—you know, like, do its job. More than 800,000 federal employees were furloughed and around 1.3 million had to report to work without knowing when they’d receive a paycheck. But our fearless leaders did manage to keep themselves boozy. The Washington Times reported that the State Department ordered $180,000 in liquor before the shutdown. See, they’re just like us, right?

Cuomo pulls the trigger

Gun owners all over New York state were up in arms in January when Gov. Andrew Cuomo pushed the New York SAFE Act though the New York State Legislature, limiting the number of rounds in automatic weapons, among other specifics. Following the Sandy Hook Elementary school shootings in Newtown, Conn., it was an aggressive move on the part of the governor. Many said that the late-night session, which was followed immediately by Cuomo’s signature, was rushed and not transparent enough; others lauded his efforts to set the model for gun control in America.

The NSA whistleblower

A year ago, Edward Snowden was just an ex-CIA employee and no-name contractor to the National Security Agency. With only his security clearance and a fine sense of indignation at surveillance he saw as a threat to the U.S. Constitution and Americans’ personal freedom, he liberated 1.7 million classified NSA documents and beat it, first, to Hong Kong, and finally, to Russia. The President and almost everyone that’s part of the national security state condemned him. Millions of others see Snowden as the ultimate whistleblower, shining a light on illegal surveillance.

The whistleblower’s journalists

After Edward Snowden went into hiding with his cache of documents, he needed journalists he could trust to make his news public. He chose lawyer-turned journalist and blogger Glenn Greenwald, and documentary filmmaker Laura Poitras. They broke the story in The Guardian, The New York Times and other media outlets—and almost every revelation was a bombshell. Spying on Americans’ phone use? Yep. Spying on friendly foreign governments? You bet. And there’s plenty more to come.

Meet the new pope

When Pope Benedict XVI said “See ya,” packed his Pradas and retired with his drool cup to his luxury flat, the College of Cardinals met in Vatican City and elected Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina. Adopting the name Francis, the new pope immediately shocked everyone with his “Let’s not hate the gays and obsess over abortion 24/7” statements. (Not that the Roman Catholic Church is now cool with homosexuality and abortion, but still.) And if that wasn’t shocking enough, Pope Francis then preached against income inequality, for the rights of the poor and against the excesses of global capitalism. Bewildered right-wingers are screaming “Marxist!” The rest of us say, “More please!”

Benghaziiiiiiiiiiiiii!

Republicans have been trying all year to turn the tragic murder of American diplomats in Benghazi, Libya, into a political scandal that could be tied to the Obama administration. Hasn’t happened. In November, CBS 60 Minutes correspondent Lara Logan promised to reveal a smoking gun that would finally do what the Republicans couldn’t. But—oops!—her source turned out to be lying, and said source’s book about Benghazi was withdrawn by the publisher. The publisher—oops again!—just happened to be part of the same corporate octopus as CBS, a fact not disclosed in the flawed 60 Minutes report. Logan was suspended—but not for long. She’ll be back on CBS in early 2014. Dan Rather should be so lucky.

Good twerk

Do we really need to remind you that Miley Cyrus happened? She’s still happening all up in our business everywhere we turn. There’s no escaping it. She stuck out her tongue, shook her ass at Beetlejuice, humped a wrecking ball, pissed off Sinead O’Connor and petitioned the world to “free the nipple.” But her greatest accomplishment this year might have been the number of times she forced stodgy white people to try and use the word “twerk” in a sentence.

Old dirty bastard

Thank you, Rob Ford, for just being you—for smoking crack and inspiring Gawker to “Crack-start” a campaign to buy the video of you doing so; for denying the existence of said video and then confessing to the whole thing when it inevitably surfaced, during a surreal Halloween press conference; for getting drunk and falling down; for dancing to reggae music; for nearly tackling a female city councilwoman when the city of Toronto tried to oust you from the mayor’s office; for looking like a bug-eyed hedgehog at all the politically inopportune moments; but, most of all, for being from Canada—because we have enough of our own lovable scamps in the States. . . .

Real-life Ron Burgundy

. . . Like San Diego mayor Bob Filner, who resigned this year after 17 allegations of sexual harassment were brought against him by woman who said he groped them or made unwanted advances. Stay classy, San Diego, California, United States.

A good year for weed

Let’s face it, this shit’s gonna be legal everywhere real soon. It’s about time.

Where’s Molly?

This was the year that molly (MDMA, ecstasy, etc.) hysteria hit a fever pitch. The EDM industry is booming, kids have died, and the media freaked out about the dangers of the rave drug that’s been around for decades. The untold story is that most of these deaths have not been on account of MDMA but rather methylone, a cheaper analog similar to bath salts but impossible to verify without a test kit.

Krokodil hunter

It was just a crazy Internet thing that we could gawk at from afar until flesh-eating super-morphine “krokodil” landed on American shores this year. The powerful opiate is often cut with gasoline and gets its name from the severe tissue damage that can occur with chronic use. This is probably a good one to “just say no” to.

RIP 5 Pointz

NYC graffiti culture lost its mecca this fall when 5 Pointz: The Institute of Higher Burnin’ was razed for luxury condos. The Queens factory building was a playground for aresol artists and received extra attention when British street artist Banksy made a monthlong residency in the city. The building’s planned destruction sparked outcry and debate within the street-art culture regarding how the art form should be preserved and memorialized, and whether impermanence is an intrinsic aspect of the form.

The fall of Silk Road

In October, the FBI arrested web developer Ross William Ulbricht and seized his domain the Silk Road, an online black marketplace where anonymous transactions could be carried out with bitcoin, an anonymous virtual currency. The marketplace dealt in all manner of narcotics, and some legal products and has since been rebooted by other site administrators who have adopted Ulbricht’s handle “Dread Pirate Roberts.”

New money

Speaking of bitcoin (BTC), since its inception in 2009, the digital currency and accompanying peer-to-peer exchange has only grown in influence and viability, in both illicit sectors like the Silk Road and world economies. Speculators have cashed in big time, while governments scramble to shape legislation to regulate the volitile currency.

Albany embraces its female side

This November, Albany elected its first female mayor, Kathy Sheehan. Sheehan will succeed Jerry Jennings, who was elected in 1993 and served for five terms. But did Jennings leave anything in the city unmarked? We’re wondering where we’ll see her photo and name stamped first—the Albany FreeNet login page, or on a shiny new downtown aquarium? The suspense is killing us, too!

Valentine’s 2.0

The local music community has spent the better part of the past few months saying its goodbyes to Valentine’s, the New Scotland rock club slated for demolition by the expansion of the Albany Medical Center complex. The good news is that owner Howard Glassman has purchased a new space on Central Avenue where Cagney’s used to be, and is plotting a new foray into the biz sometime this coming year.

Last call

John DeJohn shut down two of his Lark Street establishments, DeJohn’s and Legends, which were next door to each other and shared a kitchen—leaving a long dark stretch of the street that once bustled. While there may have been other factors, DeJohn said he was frustrated that he was blocked from getting the go-ahead to stay open till 4 AM, like his establishment across the street, Justin’s, which remains open.

Battle of the bell tower

After a long fight to save it by the preservation group Citizens for St. Patrick’s, Watervliet’s historic St. Patrick’s Church and its campus were demolished for a planned Price Chopper. Despite Citizens’ assertions that the developer was exaggerating the building’s deterioration and ignoring evidence of a steel structure preventing its collapse, a state Supreme Court judge approved the development. However, the demo exposed its steel beams, while the 137-foot-high bell tower—a distinctive feature of the city skyline that was cited by Nigro Co. as a likely hazard—proved to be so sturdy that it took several days’ worth of demolition efforts to bring it down.

Under new ownership

Albany’s Madison Theatre closed—but for a happy reason. Tierra Coffee Roasters, who have retail space in the theater’s storefront, bought the building and are renovating it. According the refurbished marquee out front, the Madison will be reopening on Jan. 17, 2014.

You want friables with that?

Though the region’s cities are usually quick to tear down old buildings believed to be potential hazards, city personnel are far less safety-minded when it comes to demolitions. The razing of seven houses on Lexington Avenue in Albany produced a cloud of possibly toxic dust while school kids played nearby, and on King Street in Troy, four houses were demolished while customers were eating at the Bombers next door. At least one house was later found to contain asbestos.

A roll of the dice

New York voters passed a resolution in November, by a small margin, to allow seven Las Vegas-style casinos in the state. Many upstate regions voted against the measure, including Albany, Saratoga, and Schenectady counties. Rensselaer County voted yes.

Insert manhole joke here

The aging infrastructure under the streets of Albany and Troy is begging for attention, as evidenced by the many, many manholes that exploded (yes, we giggle here too) throughout the year. Honestly, you can only blame Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles for so long. Fix it already, guys.

American psycho

There’s a serial killer on the loose in Troy, and he/she has a very unusual preference: Uncle Sam. Several of the Uncle Sam public art sculpture pieces were beheaded throughout the year, and so far, no one has been apprehended for the crimes. Leave your top hat at home, folks. Especially if you’re a statue.

Higher learning

Sage College in Albany bucked the trend of college sprawl by buying the nearby New Scotland Avenue Armory—for utilization, not demolition. One of only six cavalry armories left in the state, the building is being adapted for classrooms and faculty offices, and its drill shed will eventually host athletic and community events, as well as allow the college to host its own commencements.

This old(est) house

Historic Albany Foundation acquired its very own history house when the Van Ostrande-Radliffe House was gifted to the organization by its owner. The 1728 structure at 48 Hudson Ave. is the oldest house in Albany, and contains extremely rare examples of surviving Dutch architecture. HAF is currently raising funds for its restoration.

A walk with the angels

Vale Cemetery in Schenectady—one of the area’s outstanding examples of the 19th-century American Rural Cemetery Movement—is taking steps toward restoring its overgrown parkland. With the assist of an $8,100 grant from the Preservation League of New York State, the organization has been able to discover, and is reclaiming, walking paths from 1857.

Stand your ground—whatever that means

This was the year that we got to know the name George Zimmerman. In February, the 29-year-old shot and killed Trayvon Martin, an unarmed teenager in a gated community in Florida. Criticism surrounded the case on all sides, and was fueled by the 44 days that passed between the February incident and Zimmerman’s arrest. In July, he was found not guilty of second-degree murder and manslaughter.

Next on Fox News: Black teenagers are scary

The Trayvon Martin trial threatened to put a human face on young men who are routinely profiled for little more reason that they are black (and perhaps wearing a hoodie). But the prosecution turned the tables by humanizing George Zimmerman and making Martin seem angry and aggressive. Just to make sure their audience wasn’t confused about whom to be scared of, Fox and other right-wing outlets reported relentlessly on subsequent murders involving white victims and black teenage aggressors, and provoked further jitters with reports on an apparent urban myth called the Knockout Game.

Speaking of angry and aggressive

George Zimmerman had yet another brush with the law over a domestic dispute with his girlfriend, whose fearful accounts of his threats were caught on on a 911 call.

A spoonful of sugar

It wasn’t the disclosure that Paula Deen, a Type 2 diabetes sufferer and a peddler of high-fat and high-sugar cuisine, was a paid spokeswoman for a Danish pharmaceutical  company with a corner on the market for insulin production. Nope, it was the N-word that undid this self-made millionaire from the deep South. The Food Network severed all ties with Deen afterwards, but fans of the foul-mouthed Crisco Queen can still chow on her artery-clogging grub in one of her restaurants.

Royals do it better

Our tabloid society is obsessed with breeders, and this year the royal family of England gave the supermarket rags the headline of the year: Prince William and Kate Middleton, Duchess of Cambridge, pooled their snooty genes (how’s that for a euphemism, huh?) and produced a little boy George. Congrats, everyone. We’re sure they’ll let you nanny sometime.

Can’t get enough Weiner

Following his resignation from Congress in 2011 over a sexting scandal, Anthony Weiner popped up again in 2013 during his attempts to be New York City’s next mayor. Allegations were made that Weiner hadn’t given up his sexting ways, and he admitted that he had conducted extramarital digital correspondence with several ladies using the handle “Carlos Danger.” He didn’t stand a chance in the mayoral race, and when reporters asked him what he would do next, Weiner showed off another one of his appendages—his middle finger.

Armstrong shows us his “O” face

Everyone kind of knew that cyclist superhero Lance Armstrong doped, right? Like, you didn’t want to believe it—but you just knew. Well, it all culminated in the only way that true American tragedy and downfall can—Oprah made him cry. So, it’s over now. Truth is out and man tears have been shed. Who’s next?

My fake girlfriend is prettier than yours

We almost forgot about Notre Dame football player Manti Te’o, too. But who could forget about his fake dead girlfriend and all of the weird lies that came out the story that Deadspin broke? Was he catfished? Did he orchestrate the whole thing? Forget you Manti, we’re gonna pour out a little Champagne for “Lennay Kekua” and all the other fake girlfriends of the world right now.

Don’t bring her home to Mom

Jody Arias was convicted in May for the gruesome murder of her ex-boyfriend, Travis Alexander, in Mesa, Ariz. Perhaps the most damaging evidence came from Alexander’s digital camera, which showed images of Arias and Alexander, and then Alexander in various stages of his own murder.

Blade Runner on trial

South African Olympic runner Oscar Pistorius, who runs on special prosthesis legs, was charged with the murder of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp. He admitted to shooting her, but claims he mistook her for a home invader. His trial is set for March 2014.