November 26, 2018

Deluged with achievement, grief, and no shortage of historic firsts, 2018 can best be described as a roller-coaster year. With so many significant moments over the last 12 months, it was no easy task narrowing them down and picking the very best to fit our word-limit. Nonetheless, here they are!

China Successfully Clones Monkeys (January 24)

Two monkeys have been cloned using the technique that produced Dolly the sheep. Identical long-tailed macaques Zhong Zhong and Hua Hua were born several weeks ago at a laboratory in China. Scientists say populations of monkeys that are genetically identical will be useful for research into human diseases. But critics say the work raises ethical concerns by bringing the world closer to human cloning. Qiang Sun of the Chinese Academy of Sciences Institute of Neuroscience said the cloned monkeys will be useful as a model for studying diseases with a genetic basis, including some cancers, metabolic and immune disorders.

Launch of the Falcon Heavy (February 6)

The Falcon Heavy test flight (also known as Falcon Heavy demonstration mission) was the first attempt by SpaceX to launch a Falcon Heavy rocket. The successful test introduced the Falcon Heavy as the most powerful rocket in operation, producing five million pounds-force (22 MN) of thrust and having more than twice the lift capacity of the NASA Space Shuttle launch system. The dummy payload was a Tesla Roadster, the flagship vehicle of Tesla — which is also owned by SpaceX CEO, Elon Musk.

Black Panther’s success (February 16)

Black Panther is an American superhero film based on the Marvel Comics character of the same name. Produced by Marvel Studios and distributed by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures, it is the eighteenth film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). Critics considered it one of the best films set in the MCU and noted its cultural significance. It grossed over $1.3 billion worldwide, breaking numerous box office records including the highest-grossing film by an African-American director. For 2018 it is the highest-grossing film in the U.S. and Canada and the second-highest-grossing film worldwide; it received numerous awards and nominations.

Nerve Gas attack on Russian agent (March 4)

On March 4th, Sergei Skripal, a former Russian military officer and double agent for the UK’s intelligence services, and his daughter Yulia Skripal were poisoned in Salisbury, England. According to official UK sources and the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), the two were poisoned with a Novichok nerve agent known as A-234. Two Russian GRU operators were the suspected perpetrators.  

Stephen Hawking: 1942-2018 (March 14)

Renowned physicist Stephen Hawking died peacefully at his home in Cambridge in the early hours of March 14th. The British scientist was famed for his work with black holes and relativity, with several bestselling books — most notably, A Brief History of Time — under his name.

Hawking’s biggest accomplishment was unifying fields of relativity and quantum mechanics through his research in black holes. He discovered that black holes leak energy and fade to nothing – a phenomenon that would later become known as Hawking radiation. Through his work with mathematician Sir Roger Penrose, he demonstrated that Einstein’s general theory of relativity implies space and time would have a beginning in the Big Bang and an end in black holes. At the age of 22 Hawking was given only a few years to live after being diagnosed with a rare form of motor neurone disease. Defying the odds, Hawking not only lived to 79, he continued assiduously working in search of new discoveries.

Last Male Northern White Rhino Dies (March 20)

The world’s last male northern white rhino has died leaving only two females left to save the subspecies from extinction. The 45-year-old rhino named Sudan had been in poor health in recent days and was being treated for age-related issues and multiple infections. A veterinary team made the decision to euthanize Sudan after his condition deteriorated significantly, the conservation group WildAid announced Tuesday. Sudan lived in the Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya, surrounded by armed guards in the days leading up to his death to protect him from poachers. This has made the subspecies functionally extinct, with only two female rhinos left.

End of Castro Rule in Cuba (April 19)

When Cuba’s president Raul Castro stood down on April 19th, it marked the first time in nearly six decades that the island will not be led by a Castro. The country’s national assembly selected the current vice-president, Miguel Díaz-Canel, as the sole candidate to replace Raúl Castro. The handover will mark the end of an era: Cuba without the Castros has been the holy grail for Florida-based Cuban exiles – and a policy vigorously pursued by a dozen successive US presidents. Castro’s departure from the Cuban throne is best summarized in The Who’s 1971 hit song, Won’t Get Fooled Again, with the lyrics, “meet the new boss, same as the old boss”. Sure, it’s the end of an era, but for the poor, downtrodden population of Cuba, little will change. The average monthly salary will still hover at $25 a month, and political dissidents will continue to live under constant fear. Real, meaningful change in Cuba requires an embrace of economic liberalism in lieu of the current communist system that imprisons its people.

US Embassy to Israel officially opened in Jerusalem (May 14)

Following through on a campaign promise, United States President, Donald Trump moved the US embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem — the historic Jewish capital — on May 14, 2018. This marked the 70th anniversary of the creation of the State of Israel.

Historic US-Korea Meetings (June 12)

On June 12th of this year, for the first time in history, a sitting US president met with the dictator of North Korea. At a summit meeting in Singapore, President Trump and Kim Jong-un signed a joint statement in which the rogue nation agreed to dismantle its nuclear infrastructure. On March 8th, the White House confirmed that Trump would accept a meeting invitation from Kim Jong-un. The date for their next meeting is yet to be set.

USA Withdraws From the UNHRC (June 19)

On June 19th, Nikki Haley, the US ambassador to the United Nations announced that the United States will officially withdraw from the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC). Ambassador Haley lambasted the organization in a blistering speech, calling it a “bully pulpit for human rights violators”, and scolded its systematic targeting of Israel. 

FIFA World Cup (June 14 – July 15)

The 2018 FIFA World Cup — the 21st iteration of the world famous tournament — took place in Russia, from June 14th to July 15th. It was the first World Cup to be held in Eastern Europe, and the 11th time that it had been held on the European continent. At an estimated cost of over $14.2 billion, it was the most expensive World Cup. Moreover, it was the first ever World Cup to use the video assistant referee (VAR) system. France won the tournament finale 4–2 against Croatia to claim their second World Cup title, marking the fourth consecutive title won by a European team.

Venezuela Hit with Hyperinflation (July 26)

The ongoing crisis in Venezuela reached new heights as the Bolivar (Venezuela’s currency) was hit by hyperinflation. The annual inflation rate reached 83,000% in July and is predicted to reach 1 million percent by the end of the year. To really put things into perspective Fortune magazine reported that the currency used in the fictional “World of Warcraft” video game is now worth 7 times as much as Venezuela’s. This has resulted in many Venezuelans struggling to afford basic necessities such as food and toiletries. It has also become increasingly difficult to pay for goods using cash.

India Decriminalizes Homosexuality (September 6)

A landmark judgment by India’s highest court has overturned a colonial-era law that criminalizes consensual gay sex, in a long-fought-for victory for the LGBTQ community. The court verdict is a major milestone for LGBTQ-identifying people across the country, where homosexuality remains a social taboo and gay people face endemic discrimination. India joins 17 Commonwealth nations that have overturned laws criminalizing homosexuality, a legacy left behind in most of these nations by the former British colonial rulers.

Saudi Arabia Allows Women to Drive (September 26)

On September 26th, 2017, King Salman issued an order to allow women to drive in Saudi Arabia, with new guidelines to be created and implemented by June 2018. Women to drive campaigners were ordered not to contact media and in May 2018, several, including Loujain al-Hathloul, Eman al-Nafjan, Aisha Al-Mana, Aziza al-Yousef, and Madeha al-Ajroush, were detained. The ban was officially lifted on June 24th, 2018, while many of the women’s rights activists remained under arrest. As of August 23rd, 2018, twelve remained in detention.

Jamal Khashoggi Murdered Inside Saudi Consulate in Turkey (October 2)

On October 2nd, Jamal Khashoggi, a well-known journalist, and critic of the Saudi government walked into the country’s consulate in Istanbul and disappeared. Turkish officials believe he was murdered by a team of Saudi agents inside the building and insist they have evidence, including gruesome audio recordings. After initial denials and claims that he had left the consulate shortly after arriving, Saudi Arabia has now admitted the journalist is dead. The kingdom says Khashoggi was killed in a “rogue operation” that the leadership had not been aware of. The steady stream of disturbing allegations, coupled with the complex diplomatic situation, suggests the story remains to be resolved.

Canada Legalises Recreational Marijuana (October 17)

The Canadian government is ready to grant clemency for convictions of cannabis possession under 30 grams as Canada becomes the world’s second and largest country with a (legal) national marijuana marketplace. The use of medical marijuana has been legal in Canada since 2001 and Justin Trudeau’s government has spent two years working toward expanding that to include recreational marijuana. The goal is to better reflect society’s changing opinion about marijuana and bring black market operators into a regulated system.

USA Midterm Elections (November 6)

In a span of 24 hours, Democrats took control of the House of Representatives, gaining new powers to investigate President Trump – who subsequently fired his Attorney General and reassigned oversight of a special counsel probe of his administration’s ties to Russia. The race, widely seen as a referendum on the President’s first two years, wasn’t quite the decisive rebuke Democrats had hoped for. Democrats gained 27 House seats, below the average number lost by a president’s governing party in midterm elections. Democrats also lost ground in the Senate — which is unusual for opposition parties in midterm years — handing Republicans a stronger majority.

Stan Lee: 1924-2018 (November 12)

Stan Lee began his career at the age of 16, writing for a publication called Timely Comics. After successfully creating Fantastic Four, to compete with DC Comics’ Justice League, Lee went on to create Spider-Man and the X-Men, among a bevy of other famous superheroes. He was shortly made the editorial director of Timely Comics which was subsequently renamed to Marvel Comics. The legendary storyteller passed away on November 12th, 2018. He was 95.

Originally Published in The Cannon