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February 2012 is at its end and I have a review of the month coming right up.

The review covers a range of topics that were in the spotlight during the month. The three overarching topics are news, sports and entertainment. The news section is mostly centered on current events and politics. The sports section touches on the biggest sports stories from the month. There is a brief section on entertainment and a longer section on television specifically.

Please discuss any of the topics in the review or anything else from the month you feel deserves attention. Hope you enjoy.

5 Biggest News Stories of February 2012

1. Syria

The violence in Syria escalated in February. The Syrian government is attacking anti-government opposition throughout the country, but particularly in the city of Homs; the military shells and bombs the city indiscriminately killing dozens each day. Earlier in the month the United Nations Security Council drafted a resolution condemning the government’s actions but it was vetoed by Russia and China. Following the veto many countries, including the United States, began strategizing alternative measures in an effort to stop the actions of the Syrian government. So far, sanctions have been imposed but there has been little intervening internationally. Two Western journalists were killed in the country on February 22nd. The Syrian government drafted a new constitution which was overwhelmingly passed – the opposition and Western countries do not see the vote as legitimate.

The situation in Syria is complex. The government has ties to Russia, China, and Iran. There also appears to be no consensus on how to deal with the government’s violence against its citizens or the potential move to oust Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and those in the government. Still, it is clear that something must be done before hundreds more are killed; it certainly does not seem the Syrian government will stop the violence. The international community will probably have to get more involved. Media access is severely restricted in the country. It is estimated that more than 8,000 Syrians have been killed in the 11 months since the uprising – and it gets harder to watch and read about each day.

2. 2012 Election – February

Rick Santorum, overall, had a very good February as he put himself into position as the primary challenger to Mitt Romney (though the primary is not over by a long shot). Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul are still in the field too. Romney won the Nevada caucus on the 4th and the Maine caucus on the 11th. In between, on the 7th, Rick Santorum won the Colorado and Minnesota caucuses along with the Missouri primary (which had no delegates at stake). Romney won Colorado and Minnesota in 2008. In the first five contests of the month Romney had less of the percentage of the vote than when he ran in 2008. On the 28th, Romney had more success as he won Arizona and Michigan. After February there will still be over 2,000 delegates at stake.

Up next in March: 19 states vote including Super Tuesday on March 6th.

GOP Arizona Debate was held on February 22nd (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

3. Social Issues

The controversy over contraception, religious freedom, government involvement in medicine, etc. brought social issues to the forefront of American politics. The Obama administration mandated that contraception be covered by employers which sparked the criticism and debate. The topic has gotten more attention in the Republican primary and presumably will be addressed throughout the 2012 election process.

4. Economy 

Stocks were on the rise throughout the month and the U.S. unemployment rate dropped to 8.3%. There seems to be cautious optimism. Rising gas prices will certainly turn attitudes around though. Gas prices rose almost everyday during the month as the national average rose over $3.70 per gallon.

5. The Middle East

    • Iran: The ongoing actions by Iran and its nuclear program caused a reaction internationally. The United Nations is sending inspectors back into the country and the U.N. also imposed new sanctions. Reports are out that Israel may strike against Iranian nuclear sites as tensions grow between the countries. Iran appeared ready to ban oil exports to Europe. In the middle of the month, Iran showcased some of its supposed nuclear advancements. Iran later announced that it was open to talking about its program with the United States and the European Union.
      • Opinion: There is tons of distrust between Iran and the West. This is definitely a fragile situation. This issue will be in the news for some time.
    • Afghanistan: NATO troops burned Qurans and other religious materials taken from a detainee causing violent protests. The military said the materials were burned because there were “extremist inscriptions” in them. President Obama apologized to Afghan President Hamid Karzai about the incident. 39 people, including four American soldiers, have been killed as a result of the incident. At least nine people were killed by a suicide bombing at a military airfield on Monday the 27th and reportedly the Taliban contaminated food at a NATO base.
      • Opinion: This entire situation was completely avoidable. At the very least whoever was behind the decision to burn the materials should have known there would be a backlash. As the U.S. looks to end combat operations in Afghanistan (possibly next year), this is the type of incident that will make that process more difficult and unstable.
    • Egypt: Days after the one-year anniversary of the Egyptian revolution, a soccer riot left 79 people dead and hundreds injured on February 2nd. The riot was tied to the revolution and ongoing instability in the country after former President Hosni Mubarak was overthrown. In addition, the relationship between Egypt and the United States is teetering. The U.S. is in negotiations over the recent arrest of 16 Americans tied to the crackdown on nongovernmental organizations.

Biggest Sports Stories of February 2012

1. “Linsanity”

The biggest sports story of the year thus far and what I have to imagine will stand as one of the 10 biggest for the year. On the fourth of February Jeremy Lin, of the NBA’s New York Knicks, played 36 minutes off the bench against the New Jersey Nets and scored 25 points to go with seven assists and five rebounds; he hasn’t looked back. Lin has started every game since. From the game against New Jersey on, Lin has scored at least 20 points in nine of 12 games (the game on the last day of the month is not included). For the month (again last game not included) Lin averaged 21 points, eight assists, and four rebounds per game. If you follow the NBA you should have already known Jeremy Lin before his improbable breakout and the ensuing “Linsanity” (he was an interesting rookie free agent last season before landing with the Golden State Warriors, where he played scantily). The thing with Lin though, is the mass crossover appeal/interest. It has become this big of a story in big part because of Lin’s rise from almost being cut to being a superstar in the matter of days, his race (there is no denying this plays a role and has raised racial consciousness – look at the multiple racial “controversies”), him being a Harvard graduate and the simple fact that he plays in New York City. People who do not even follow basketball are interested in what he is doing and paying attention to his story. This is a great story no matter how you look at it. The Lin puns can stop anytime though. Seriously, stop.

      • Side note: I’m pretty much out on the NBA this season, at least. I’m a Lakers fan (and an NBA fan) that still can’t get over David “The Meddler” Stern and the Chris Paul trade that never was. I’m not boycotting, but I’m not eager to watch either. Even though my enthusiasm for the league has waned the Jeremy Lin story is still fascinating and the kind of story that makes sports so great.

Jeremy Lin follows through (AP photo/Frank Franklin II)

2. Super Bowl XLVI – February 5th

In much the same fashion as Super Bowl XLII, Super Bowl XLVI ended with the Giants taking a late lead over the New England Patriots and ultimately coming away with the championship. The Super Bowl was a good game but not a classic. The Giants’ final drive will be the most remembered part of the game. Specifically, the two most memorable moments were when Super Bowl MVP Eli Manning connected with Mario Manningham down the sideline for 38 yards and when Ahmad Bradshaw tried to stop himself from scoring the game winning touchdown with just over a minute remaining before falling into the end zone. Super Bowl XLVI capped off an entertaining NFL playoff.

3. Ryan Braun wins appeal – February 23rd

Late last year, 2011 National League MVP Ryan Braun was reported to have violated Major League Baseball’s drug use policy and was facing a 50-game suspension beginning in the 2012 season. The news was leaked. Braun went public, adamant that he never took anything that would cause a failed test. He successfully appealed his suspension becoming the first baseball player to win an appeal for drug use. It soon came out that Braun’s argument during the appeal process was not that he did not take a banned substance but rather that proper protocol was not followed by the person who took the drug test. According to reports, the sample was supposed to immediately be sent via FedEx for testing; instead, the administer waited until the next day to send it. Braun maintains his innocence and MLB is not happy with the ruling.

      • Opinion: This story is not over. MLB and Braun both will try to take further action (Braun said as much). This also has ramifications for the past, present, and future. How do test results get leaked this often? Are past tests legitimate? Positive tests will be under much more scrutiny now and in the future. The Braun case brought back the conversation/debate over PEDs and testing. Changes to test policy could come as a result. I do not know all the ins and outs but if what is reported is true, that the test was not handled according to the rules, then Braun should have won his appeal. I don’t think there is enough proof of a violation. I could be wrong but I am fairly certain that this should have never gone public either. Still, a cloud will hang over Braun for his entire career and beyond.

4. National Signing Day – February 1st

Outside of game days, National Signing Day may be the most important and exciting day in the world of college football. It’s the first day recruits can sign their letter of intent – essentially announcing where they will play college football. Recruiting has become big business as companies scout high school players and try to figure out where the best players in the country will attend college. Fans are more aware of recruiting than ever before. National Signing Day is like having an entire period of free agent signings on one day. Some of the universities that had a highly ranked recruiting class (according to recruiting services) are Alabama, Texas, Florida, Ohio State, Florida State, and Stanford.

  • Other Sports Topics:
    • March Madness is right around the corner
    • MLB’s Spring Training is underway
    • The NHL trade deadline passed
    • The NBA had its All Star Game
    • The Daytona 500 finally ended and Matt Kenseth won

Entertainment Stories of February 2012

  • Whitney Houston died (February 11th) – The passing of Whitney Houston got as much media coverage as anything else during the month.
  • The Oscars (February 26th) – I didn’t watch more than 10 minutes of the broadcast. That may have something to do with me only seeing one of the nine Best Picture nominated films (lowest amount I’ve seen prior to the awards ever). I also didn’t need to sit through 3+ hours of a room full of self-importance (admittedly I usually try to watch some of the show) Anyway, The Artist was the big winner taking Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Actor among its five wins, which tied it with Hugo for the most Oscar wins for the award season.
  • Grammy Awards (February 12th) – While I try to watch the Oscars, I have never had the desire to tune in to the Grammy Awards. Adele had a big night.

5 Favorite Television Episodes of February 2012

1. Thick as Mud – “Justified” (Original air date: February 14th) 

Just a fantastic episode (best of the season). In this episode Dewey Crowe (Damon Herriman) is tricked into thinking he has lost his kidneys and has to “buy” them back from the prison nurse who surgically took them out (I know it all sounds ridiculous. That’s because it is). Anyway, the pace and comedic moments were pitch perfect in this episode. Though much of the episode revolved around Dewey and the Marshalls trying to track him down, the best scene of the season was the showdown between Quarles (Neal McDonough) and Boyd (Walton Goggins).

2. Episode Four – “Luck” (Original air date: February 19th)

This is the best episode of the series to date (there have only been five). Episode Four was the most complete episode of the series. The race sequence was mesmerizing as the characters got their first look at Walter Smith’s (Nick Nolte) horse Gettin’ up Morning. The sequence did a great job of showing the characters’ reactions to seeing this special horse in their midst.

Series note: As for the series itself, I am enjoying it quite a bit. The show has done a good job of showcasing its characters and the horse racing world. Through five episodes it’s not too “plotty” but it is also picking up in that department. This is a fine addition to HBO’s stable.

3. Dave Returns – “Parks and Recreation” (Original air date: February 16th)

Dave (Louis C.K.) makes his triumphant (not really) return to Pawnee. Dave tries to win over Leslie (Amy Poehler) with even more oddness than you would expect. The dinner scene with Leslie, Ben (Adam Scott), and Dave worked very well. The B story was also good as Andy (Chris Pratt) was put in charge of creating Leslie’s campaign song.

“You look like I could use some company” – Dave

Series note: “Parks and Recreation” aired three episodes in February and they may have been the three weakest of the season (which means they are the three weakest in probably over two seasons). I’m not worried but the show cooled off just a tad. It’s still the best comedy on television right now – the standards are high though.

4. Today You Are a Man – “30 Rock” (Original air date: February 2nd)

This is on here purely for the main Jack (Alec Baldwin)/Liz (Tina Fey) story. Jack and Liz negotiating Liz’s new contract and then Jack arguing against himself was the type of thing this show does best. Jenna (Jane Krakowski) and Tracy (Tracy Morgan) getting the “greatness” of their celebrity turned around on them worked out well enough. Kenneth switching places with another page, played by Kristen Schaal, was worth a few laughs too. But this was pretty much all about Jack and Liz battling it out.

Series note: This was the only “30 Rock” episode from February that I have seen. The next episode is an hour long. It’s been staring at me for a few weeks. I love “30 Rock” but an hour long episode is a bit daunting for any comedy.

5. Nebraska– “The Walking Dead” (Original air date: February 12th)

I could have gone with episodes from at least two other series for the last spot but ended up giving it to Nebraska from “The Walking Dead.” Nebraska was the first episode of the second half of season two and included one of the three best scenes of the season. The scene I am referring to is the conversation turned shootout at the local bar. These are the types of scenes I’d like to see more from this show. It had as much (if not more) tension than any “zombie scene” in the series thus far, and was mostly a few guys talking. It helped (and I suppose hurt) that Michael Raymond James (“Terriers”) was able to take part and out-act/make more of an impression than every series regular in a matter of minutes. What also worked so well was reminding us (the audience) that in this world your fellow humans can be just as dangerous as “walkers.” So, while I had several issues with the episode (and the series (see below)) this was a fantastic scene inside an overall good episode of the show.

Series note: I like watching “The Walking Dead.” I just don’t think it’s that great of a show. Calling it a good show is sort of a stretch even. It is entertaining though, I will give it that. It feels like the show should have aired more episodes by now, but this past Sunday was only the series’ 16th episode. Still, by this time the characters should be better fleshed out and more compelling. There are too many times where I am left wondering how in this zombie world this group is still alive – in the show Herschel questions this as well – because there are so many stupid decisions made (e.g. Lori’s “rescue” (?) mission). There is a bit too much meandering as well. It’s a show that I will continue to watch but it is not maximizing its potential.

Rick (Andrew Lincoln) and Dave (Michael Raymond James) chat

Misc. February Television Thoughts

  • “The Office”: The show hasn’t been consistently good for years. It has also struggled with Steve Carell’s departure as Andy has essentially turned into a version of Michael Scott. However, the show had its strongest post-Carell stretch in the four episodes that aired this month (the episodes may rank 1-4) for the season. I nearly put one of the episodes in my top five for the month. I’m still skeptical long term but “The Office” may have found some things that will work.
  • Quick notes:
    • “Parenthood” – losing me a little down the stretch. Storylines are just a little too ridiculous for one reason or another.
    • “Angry Boys” – finished its 12 episode stint. I was mostly disappointed in the series after having high hopes for it.
    • “New Girl” and “Modern Family” – “fine,” at the moment. I’m enjoying the former more simply because of Schmidt.

Up next in March: A little show called “Mad Men” comes back after over 16 months.

That’s what I have for February 2012. What are your thoughts on the month? Feel free to bring up any topic not just the ones I included in the post.

Thanks for reading!