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RFE/RL's Top 10 Stories Of 2011

RFE/RL's report on the apparent discovery of subatomic "neutrino" particles by the CERN laboratory was one of its most popular stories last year.

RFE/RL's report on the apparent discovery of subatomic "neutrino" particles by the CERN laboratory was one of its most popular stories last year.

The 10 most popular web stories on RFE/RL this year revealed a truly varied range of interests among our loyal readers, whose diverse tastes ran the gamut from groundbreaking subatomic physics to unusual marijuana cultivation to Photoshopped kisses. Here they are:

1. Who Are The Navy Seals And What Is Team Six?

Soon after U.S. President Barack Obama addressed the world on May 2 to announce the death of Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, he met privately at the White House with the men who killed him, members of an elite and secretive special forces unit -- the Navy Seals’ Team Six.

In RFE’s most popular web story of the year, Charles Recknagel took a look at the history of the Seals and of Team Six, and asked: who are these guys, and what does it take to become one of them?

2. Sarah Shourd Too Sexy For Iranian Hard-Line Website

When American hikers Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal were finally released from Iranian captivity in September of this year after being charged for espionage, the eyes of the world turned to Bauer’s joyful reunion with his fiancee (and former detainee), Sarah Shourd. But the pictures of that reunion were just a shade too racy for one hard-line Iranian news service, Mashreghnews.

After pictures were published showing Shourd and Bauer appearing together at a news conference, the puritanical Mashreghnews blurred out Shourd’s bare arms and neck. An image of the happy couple in an embracing kiss also got Photoshopped. Golnaz Esfandiari pointed out the censorship in her blog, “Persian Letters,” for the second-most-read web story of the year.

3. CERN Explains The Big Fuss Over ‘Neutrino’ Findings

Is the world’s most famous equation wrong? Einstein’s theory of general relativity (and its corresponding equation, E = mc2) came in for a strong challenge this fall as researchers at CERN, the Switzerland-based laboratory, measured subatomic particles, “neutrinos,” traveling faster than the speed of light.

The finding shook physicists the world over and captured the imagination of the public. RFE/RL’s Ron Synovitz was quick off the mark to talk with James Gillies, CERN’s spokesman, about the possible implications of the year’s biggest science story.

4. Did Anonymous Hack Sony’s PlayStation Network?

The self-styled digital Robin Hoods from the hacker group Anonymous have wreaked all kinds of havoc on the likes of PayPal and MasterCard. In April, they turned their sights on Sony and its PlayStation network, which was shut down for a week after the web’s most famous pirates broke in. Luke Allnutt gave a wrap-up of the story for his “Tangled Web” blog, and the entry generated dozens of responses from indignant readers claiming to be affiliated with Anonymous.

5. Iran Shows Footage Of Captured U.S. Drone

U.S. military planners doubtless gulped pretty hard when Iranian television began broadcasting images of an American drone aircraft that it claims was brought down by the Iranian military in December. The Iranians claimed that an “electronic ambush” brought the drone down to the ground in one piece; U.S. officials say that it was a simple malfunction.

Whatever the case, it made for an embarrassing episode for the United States, one of whose pieces of prized military technology now sits in an Iranian hanger with a banner underfoot reading, “The U.S. cannot do a damned thing.”

6. Soviet-Era Marijuana Still In Demand

The recipe for top-quality Kyrgyz plasticine ganja sounds like a bad joke: first, take a dozen or so freshly showered naked people. Then have them run on foot or on horseback through fields of giant marijuana plants. Scrape off the sweaty resin on their skin and press and mold the gooey substance into bars for a condensed hallucinogen. Sanitary? Maybe not. But as Merkhat Sharipzhanov showed in August, the weed originating from the Chu Valley between Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan has been a prized commodity throughout Eurasia since well before the collapse of the Soviet Union.

7. Interview: ‘Authoritarian Governments Have Immensely Benefited From The Web,’ Author Says

Twitter and Facebook got a lot of media attention this year for their alleged role in helping to drive the Arab Spring revolutions and protests that toppled four governments, and which continue to threaten Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria. But Evgeny Morozov won renown this year for his very counterintuitive argument that, far from driving change, the Internet has empowered dictators with a broad set of new tools for repression.

RFE/RL’s Robert Coalson talked with Morozov -- who was recently named one of Forbes’s “30 Under 30” in the realm of law and policy -- in January about his book, “The Net Delusion: The Dark Side Of Internet Freedom.”

8. Cain Not Focused On Ubeki-beki-beki-beki-stan-stan

Who would expect Herman Cain, the Godfather’s pizza executive-turned-U.S. presidential candidate, to know the name of the president of Uzbekistan? Certainly not Herman Cain, who told an American interviewer in October that he wasn’t too interested in “knowing who is the head of some of these small, insignificant states around the world.” Cain’s bid for the presidency later floundered on a variety of sexual harassment and adultery charges, leading him to suspend his campaign. But his foreign policy legacy will live on in his coining of a new name for Islam Karimov’s authoritarian terror state: “Ubeki-beki-beki-beki-stan-stan.”

9. Forget WikiLeaks, We Need A WikiWitness

“Time” magazine recently named 2011 the year of the protester, but as Luke Allnutt pointed out in this blog post for “Tangled Web,” many defining, user-generated images of protest from around the world -- from Egypt to Bahrain to Kyrgyzstan -- are increasingly being curated out of public view by the new information guardians at Flickr, YouTube, and Facebook.

10. Hitting The Sweet Spot: The True Genius Of Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs’ untimely death from cancer in October was easily among the biggest news stories of the year, touching billions of technology enthusiasts worldwide who have come to embrace their various Apple products as parts of themselves. James C. Bennett, a writer and entrepreneur from Palo Alto, penned a special tribute to Jobs and his legacy for RFE/RL, netting the 10th-most-read article on RFE/RL for 2011.

-- Charles Dameron

About This Blog

Written by RFE/RL editors and correspondents, Transmission serves up news, comment, and the odd silly dictator story. While our primary concern is with foreign policy, Transmission is also a place for the ideas -- some serious, some irreverent -- that bubble up from our bureaus. The name recognizes RFE/RL's role as a surrogate broadcaster to places without free media. You can write us at