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Progress watch 2012: Smart phones, jobs returning to America, and war crimes trials

The often-slow arc of good news may not make headlines. But 2012 brought its quiet share: from extreme poverty dropping by half since 1990 to a robot with the bulky profile of an NFL player that may have a role in bringing jobs back to the US.

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This is the cover story in the Dec. 31/Jan. 7, 2013 double issue of The Christian Science MonitorWeekly.

John Kehe illustration

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Good news is hard to find. That's partly because, no matter what the topic, there's so much distracting bad news: ongoing violence in Syria, America's allegedly imminent fiscal demise, the National Hockey League lockout. From the front page to the sports page, so little looks good.

It isn't just the cacophony of naysaying and fear that crowds out good news. It's also the nature of progress itself: Good news happens slowly. The American storytelling ethos loves narratives of overnight success, but real change isn't usually so sudden. Earlier this year, the World Bank announced that the number of people living on less than $1.25 a day – what policy wonks call "extreme poverty" – had dropped by half since 1990. That study might have been the biggest bit of good news to go overlooked this year, but consider this: Global extreme poverty was actually halved in 2010 – it took two years even to see that progress had happened.

Other highlights, too, have been subject to the long arc of incremental change. Nearly 90 percent of people globally have access to clean water, according to the World Health Organization. In Mexico, homicide rates – driven to outrageous levels in the drug wars – are down for the first time in six years.

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