This is an article from Turning Points, a magazine that explores what critical moments from this year might mean for the year ahead.
Church of England’s First Female Bishop
Although female monarchs have held the title of supreme governor of the Church of England since the days of Elizabeth I, it was only this year that the Rev. Libby Lane became the first female bishop of the Church of England. Her consecration in January as bishop of Stockport, in northwest England, came amid controversy between liberal and conservative factions of the church, which has 85 million followers around the world.
Culture’s Transgender Moment
Transgender people are in the mainstream consciousness more than ever. They received the presidential treatment, with President Barack Obama calling for equal rights and respect for the LGBT community in his annual State of the Union address — using the word “transgender” in a presidential address for the first time ever. Caitlyn Jenner, formerly known as Bruce Jenner, the retired American athlete who won the men’s decathlon at the Summer Olympics in 1976, is documenting on reality TV her transformation from hapless dad to a glamazon trailblazer for trans rights. The American actress Laverne Cox, known for her role on the Netflix series “Orange Is the New Black,” is the first openly transgender person to have her own wax figure at Madame Tussaud’s. And Andreja Pejic is the first openly transgender model to be the face of a major makeup brand after landing a contract with Make Up For Ever.
Keep Your Selfie Stick to Yourself
More and more museums are asking guests to refrain from carrying a selfie stick while inside their halls. Like New York City’s Metropolitan Museum of Art did in February, museums and other exhibition venues for the first time have been prohibiting the smartphone extenders, citing concerns that oblivious operators could damage precious artwork or pose a safety risk. Even Apple jumped on the ban-wagon and asked attendees at its Worldwide Developers Conference in June to leave their selfie sticks in their hotel rooms, and Disney decided to extend its ban to all areas of its parks after users broke an existing rule restricting them on rides.
A Three-Person Embryo
Despite opponents decrying the eventuality of “designer babies,” Britain became the first country to allow mitochondrial replacement therapy. The British Parliament in February approved a procedure that would allow embryos to be created with DNA from three people — a mother, a father and a female donor with healthy mitochondrial DNA — to prevent rare incurable diseases that are passed down the maternal line. This would give women with a history of mitochondrial diseases a chance to have healthy biological offspring. Clinics in Britain can start applying for licenses in the late fall; a baby created using this in-vitro fertilization therapy could be born as early as next year.
Scientists at École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne in Switzerland in March captured the first-ever image of light as both a particle and a wave. Light can act like a wave or a stream of particles, and while previous experiments have shown light to behave in either way, never before has a photograph captured this happening simultaneously. The experiment could help scientists unlock further discoveries in the field of quantum computing.
Unexpected Beauty Queen
In a move that delighted some, scandalized others but surprised most, a woman of mixed race — known as a “haafu”— was for the first time named Miss Japan. Ariana Miyamoto’s victory in March is a rarity in the ethnically homogenous country. Miyamoto, whose father is African-American and mother is Japanese, was born and raised primarily in Japan, where those of mixed race are few and far between, and those who are half black even rarer still. Critics questioned whether the beauty queen was “Japanese enough” to represent the country at the Miss Universe pageant, but Miyamoto shrugged them off, saying she wants to use her title to promote greater tolerance and acceptance for multiracial Japanese people.
Connected in Cuba
Cubans got their first taste of wireless Internet when the well-known artist Alexis Leiva Machado, popularly known as “Kcho,” set up the island’s first public Wi-Fi spot in his Havana studio and cultural center in March. Most of the country’s citizens do not have regular access to the Internet, and those who have the luxury of owning a smartphone can’t use it to surf the Web. Cuba plans to offer its citizens a better telecommunications infrastructure, including the establishment of 35 Wi-Fi spots in parks, avenues and other public spaces throughout the nation. The service isn’t free; users must register with the state-owned telecom company and pay $2 an hour — a significant fee considering that the country’s median income is $20 per month.
A Projected Protest
A virtual march became a political reality when holograms — chants, banners and all — protested the so-called gag law in Madrid. The world’s first holographic protest, in front of the Spanish parliament building in April, was in response to the Citizen Safety Law, which levies steep fines for unauthorized gatherings and prohibits photographing or filming police officers, among other things that critics say fly in the face of democratic principles. Organizers pointed out that their virtual selves have more rights under the new law. Despite widespread protests — virtual and real — the law went into effect in July.
A Midair Feat
A test drone refueled in midflight for the first time, marking a significant achievement in autonomous unmanned flight. The X-47B aircraft, nicknamed “Salty Dog 502,” guzzled up more than 4,000 pounds of fuel delivered via a drogue, a funnel-shaped device attached to a hose, from an air jet tanker off the coast of Maryland and Virginia in the eastern United States, in April. Salty Dog 502 is one of two X-47B aircraft developed by Northrop Grumman for the U.S. Navy’s testing purposes. According to reports, however, its first midair refueling may be its last, as the Navy has refocused its development efforts on another class of unmanned air vehicles.
Not So Far, Far Away
The Force is with you, just as quickly as you can download it. To the delight of dedicated fans, the “Star Wars” movies can now be accessed digitally — Jedi-like timing to whet audience appetite for the seventh episode in the franchise, “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” due in theaters this December. And in June, fans both new and old were able to experience all six films of the blockbuster series, which for the first time was screened in China, at the Shanghai International Film Festival — almost 40 years after the first of the original trilogy was released. Until then, the movies had only been available in China through pirated copies and illegal downloads.
To Boldly Brew
The first Italian woman in space became the first barista on the International Space Station in May, brewing a cup of Italy’s finest in a 55-pound machine that was almost two years in the making. Samantha Cristoforetti, 38, an Italian air force pilot and engineer, took her first sip from a special cup that allowed her to drink in microgravity conditions almost as she would have back on terra firma. The ISSpresso machine, as it is called, can whip up other hot beverages, such as tea and consommé.
A First Black Leader
South Africa’s main opposition party elected its first black leader, Mmusi Maimane, 35, signaling a new direction for the Democratic Alliance, which has long struggled with the image that it represents only the interests of white South Africans. With Maimane’s election in May, the party hopes to attract the support of more black voters in a bid to wrest power away from the African National Congress, which has dominated South African politics since apartheid was lifted in 1994.
Art’s $1 Billion Week
Christie’s had a good week and then some, selling more than a $1 billion worth of art in just three days starting on May 11. Among the notable works on offer was Pablo Picasso’s “Les Femmes d’Alger (Version ‘O’),” which, at a hefty $179.4 million, became the most expensive piece of art sold at auction, and Mark Rothko’s “No. 10,” which commanded $81.9 million. According to art dealers, many of the world’s wealthiest are choosing to funnel their extra cash into big-name artwork as an investment and status symbol.
Mother Knows Best
Keeping with tradition, an Indian mother placed a personal ad seeking a groom (must love animals and be a vegetarian) — but her ad happened to be for her son. The advertisement in May was a first for India, where same-sex relationships are illegal. In fact, three newspapers refused to print the ad, placed by the mother of activist Harish Iyer, 36, before a popular tabloid agreed to do it. Iyer eventually invited the first man to respond to his mother’s ad to meet his family and begin the traditional — yet not so traditional — courting process.
Victories for Same-Sex Marriage
Ireland became the first country to approve same-sex marriage by referendum in a decided victory, with 62% in favor. The May vote changed the country’s constitution to allow the marriage of two people “without distinction as to their sex,” and same-sex marriages may be celebrated as early as October. Homosexuality was considered a crime in the staunchly Roman Catholic country until 1993, but stances regarding the LGBT community have softened in recent years. And momentum for gay rights continues to grow across the Atlantic, with the United States Supreme Court in June weighing in on the issue and deciding, in a 5-4 vote, that same-sex marriage is a right upheld by the Constitution, and therefore a national right.
Let the European Games Begin
The Swiss mountain biking champion Jolanda Neffcycled her way to the top of the winner’s podium, becoming the first person to be awarded a gold medal at the inaugural European Games, held in Baku, Azerbaijan, from June 12 to 28. Her fellow countryman Nino Schurter secured the top spot in the men’s mountain bike race. About 6,000 athletes from more than 50 countries competed at the European Games, which are governed by the European Olympic Committees and will occur every four years hereafter.
The oversized dinosaur blockbuster “Jurassic World” grossed $511.8 million worldwide in its opening weekend in June, becoming the first movie to surpass the $500 million mark and topping the lists of biggest movie openings. The film, which is the fourth installment in the “Jurassic Park” series, is the latest in a string of lucrative sequels — like the “Avengers” and “Fast and Furious” franchises — that generate tremendous revenue, if not exactly critical praise.
A Big Leap From India
Satnam Singh Bhamara may have been among the last picks by the Dallas Mavericks basketball team in June, but his selection catapultedthe local curiosity to certified celebrity status in his tiny hometown village in Punjab, India — as well as made him the first Indian-born player to be drafted in the United States’ National Basketball Association. At a towering 7 foot 2 inches, Satnam Singh, 19, is mere inches taller than his father, who wisely encouraged his son to play a game that is not as popular in India as cricket, soccer or field hockey. Just two months earlier, 22-year-old Canadian Sim Bhullar became the first-ever baller of Indian descent to play in an NBA game.
Papal Recognition for Palestine
After 15 years of negotiations, the Vatican on June 26 signed a treaty with “the state of Palestine,” angering Israeli officials, who say that doing so has threatened the peace process. The Vatican has been unofficially referring to Palestine as a state since the United Nations granted it nonmember observer status in 2012, but this is the first time that the Holy See has signed an agreement with the Palestinians. The accord addresses the church’s activities and interests in the areas of the Holy Land that Palestine controls.
Nine years since it was launched and after hurtling 3 billion miles in space, the New Horizons spacecraft gave the citizens of Earth their first detailed look in July at the lonely dwarf planet at the edge of the solar system, marking the first space mission to explore Pluto and its five known moons. The spacecraft — which carries onboard the ashes of the late Clyde Tombaugh, who discovered the celestial object in 1930 — took pictures of Pluto and its largest moon, Charon, before speeding off into the Kuiper belt. Already the data that New Horizons is transmitting back to Earth is challenging what scientists thought they knew about Pluto and its environs.
World’s First Head Transplant
An Italian neurosurgeon announced plans in June to perform the world’s first head transplant. The surgery, which is slated for 2017, will require 100 medical workers and could cost up to $15 million. The surgeon, Sergio Canavero,expects to perform the transplant on Valery Spiridinov, a 30-year-old Russian man who has Werdnig-Hoffman disease, a muscle-wasting disorder. Experts have expressed skepticism, however, that Dr. Canavero would have enough time or even the technology at his disposal to establish successful animal trials that should precede an attempt on a human.
Legal Tender’s Feminine Face-Lift
Responding to calls for greater gender equality on American currency, the United States Treasury announced that the new $10 bill will feature a woman. Although the bill won’t be in circulation until 2020, the decision on the woman to be minted will come as soon as this fall. Popular input will be considered, officials say. Although this would be a first for the ten-spot, women have been featured on United States currency before: Martha Washington’s likeness graced the back of $1 bills in the late 1800s.
A Virgin Trip for Madonna
The Queen of Pop will perform in the Philippines for the first time, stopping by the archipelago in February of next year as part of her Rebel Heart tour. And true to the Material Girl’s motto, her tickets start at 3,150 pesos for general admission and top out at 57,750 pesos (roughly $1,250) for VIP treatment — which is more expensive than ticket prices at other stops on her tour. This hasn’t deterred ardent Filipino fans, however; demand for tickets was so high that another concert day was added.
A Presidential First in Taiwan
Taiwan will probably elect its first female president next year. At one point, both major candidates in the contest were women. The ruling party, Kuomintang, in July had endorsed Deputy Legislative Speaker Hung Hsiu-chu as its presidential candidate, while the main opposition party, the Democratic Progressive Party, is led by Tsai Ing-wen. Fear of election losses led Kuomintang to replace Ms. Hung with Eric Chu in October, but Tsai and her party are still expected to sweep to power in elections next month. Among the top voter issues sure to spark debate is clarifying the island’s complex relationship with China. Tsai’s party has a history of supporting the status quo of acknowledging “one” China, yet maintaining Taiwanese sovereignty.
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