Skip to comments.[Dave Barry] Getting to the bottom of 2002
Posted on 01/06/2003 3:39:56 PM PST by Junior
Iraq flared up and the economy teetered, but DAVE BARRY just wants to focus on his salad
If you had to pick one word to describe our national mood in 2002, that word would be ''wary.'' We went to sleep wary, and we woke up wary. We wallowed in wariness. We were wabbits.
This was partly because bad things kept happening. But it was also because government officials kept issuing alarming, yet vague, warnings. ''We have received reliable information,'' an official would say, 'that something bad might happen. We don't know what, or when, or where. But it is very, very bad. Also we are seeing the letter 'E.' So we urge all citizens to continue leading normal lives, while remaining in a state of stark, buttpuckering terror. Tune in tomorrow and we'll see if we can't ratchet this thing up a notch or two.''
We were also wary of the stock market. One day it was up; the next day it was down; the next day it was way down. And as we watched our 401K plans decline from a retirement villa in France to a refrigerator carton in an alley, we heard the unceasing babble of the financial ''experts,'' the ones who have never yet failed to be wrong, speculating endlessly on whether the market had bottomed out:
FIRST EXPERT: Bill, I think we may be seeing the bottom here, unless the market goes lower.
SECOND EXPERT: I agree, Bob. If the market does not go any lower, then this is the bottom. But by the same token, if the market DOES go lower, then this is not the bottom. We can say whatever we want and people will take us seriously, because we're on TV, and we're wearing suits.
FIRST EXPERT: I like to say ''bottom,'' Bill. Bottom bottom bottom.
SECOND EXPERT: Ha ha! But seriously, Bob, if the market goes higher from here, then we can say this is . . .
And so on, day after wary day. We became even warier when we found out that some large corporations had essentially the same business ethics as Bonnie and Clyde. It got so bad that we even became wary of Martha Stewart, who hit her own personal bottom (we are speaking figuratively) during a June appearance on the CBS early-morning show. Martha was trying to chop some cabbage for a salad, and the show's host, Jane Clayson, kept pestering her about her alleged insider trading, and finally Martha emitted what was probably the most poignant quote from all of 2002: ''I want to focus on my salad.''
In a way, Martha was speaking for the entire nation. We all wanted very much to focus on our salad in 2002. But it was impossible, with so many things making us wary. In addition to being wary of terrorism and economic uncertainty, we were wary that our children would be abducted, that a sniper would shoot us, that Saddam Hussein would attack us, or that we would attack him. We were wary of asteroids, wary of wildfires, wary of floods, wary that American Idol was fixed, wary of fast food, wary of global warming, wary of Florida elections, wary of professional baseball, wary of the West Nile virus, wary that at any moment, some evil, vicious, sick, twisted mind with no regard for the norms of human decency would decide to make a sequel to Scooby-Doo.
But, somehow, one wary day at a time, we got through 2002. Now we are poised to enter a new year, which, according to Wall Street analysts, will be 2003, so we would not bet on it. But before we move ahead to wherever we're going, let us take one last, wary look back at the year just completed, starting with . . .
. . . which begins on a hopeful note in Europe, as the nations of the European Union replace their individual currencies with the new ''euro,'' which is expected to boost the European economy by tricking clueless American tourists -- who were just starting to figure out the old currencies -- into leaving unintentionally gigantic tips. The euro is an immediate success in Paris, where an elderly Ohio couple orders two coffees at a Paris cafe and discovers, by the time they have settled the bill, that the waiter now owns their house.
But the economic news is not so good in the United States, where President George W. Bush and the Congress discover that the federal budget surplus, which only moments earlier had been trillions of dollars, is now . . . missing! Everybody looks high and low for it, but the darned thing is just GONE. Iraq is suspected.
In other executive action, the nation gets a scare when President Bush chokes on a pretzel, which is immediately wrestled to the floor by Secret Service agents. The president is unconscious for about 30 seconds, during which time Vice President Cheney appoints 173 federal judges.
But the big domestic issue is Homeland Insecurity, which is most noticeable at airports, where the Department of Transportation, having determined that every single 9/11 hijacker was a young male from a Middle Eastern country, has implemented a shrewd policy of hassling randomly selected elderly women.
Meanwhile, al Qaeda fighters captured in Afghanistan are flown to the U.S. Naval Station at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, for detainment. This outrages various perpetually outraged human-rights organizations, which issue a statement charging that the prisoners are being kept under inhumane conditions, including ''a lack of even the most rudimentary volleyball equipment.''
In other terrorist news, American Taliban fighter John Walker Lindh is hired as a marketing consultant by Major League Baseball.
On a positive military note, specially trained U.S. forces score a major victory when, after days of brutal fighting, they capture what is believed to be the headquarters of Enron, although they acknowledge that there are probably ''many smaller Enron cells still operating throughout the nation.'' The stock market drops 87 points.
Dave Thomas flips his last burger. In sports, Mike Tyson, appearing before the Nevada Athletic Commission to plead for a boxing license, expresses deep remorse for his past misbehavior, and informs the commissioners that if they turn him down, he will have no option but to eat their children. The Department of Homeland Insecurity responds by placing the nation on a Code Fuchsia Alert (''Relatively High'').
Speaking of effective tactics, the month of . . .
. . . opens with a World Economic Forum meeting in New York City, where angry protesters, determined to rid the world of poverty, hunger, disease and pollution, attack the obvious root cause of all these problems: The Gap. In other economic news, Argentina, seeking to avert bankruptcy, makes a payment of $27.42 toward its Visa bill, currently $48 billion.
In happier economic news, Americans enjoy the wacky and hilarious spectacle of Enron executives being sternly lectured about financial responsibility by members of the United States Congress. Meanwhile, President Bush, seeking to reassure Americans concerned about losing their retirement savings in the plunging stock market, proposes a bold series of federal initiatives designed to ''develop nutritious, low-cost recipes using peanut butter.'' The stock market drops 153 points.
In the War on Terrorism, security personnel at Chicago's O'Hare airport wrestle would-be passenger Merline A. Grelpner, 91, to the ground after an alert screener notices that she is carrying an object that is later confirmed, by the FBI, using spectrographic analysis, to be a pretzel. The Department of Homeland Insecurity places the nation on a Code Magenta Alert (''A Tad Higher Than Relatively High, But Not Totally High.'')
In sports, the New England Patriots win the Super Bowl, thus using up all the sports luck that New England has been accumulating for decades, and thereby guaranteeing that the Red Sox will not win the World Series for another 150 years.
But the big sporting event is the Winter Olympics, which brings thousands of athletes and spectators from around the world to Salt Lake City to celebrate the official Olympic theme: ''A Salute To Metal Detectors.'' The games go smoothly at first, except in the alpine events, where the competitors, their skis having been confiscated by airport security, must slide down the mountain on their butts. But the big scandal occurs in pairs figure skating, where the Canadian team clearly outskates the competition, only to see the gold medal awarded, in a judging decision that creates an international uproar, to . . . Iraq.
And speaking of international tension, in . . .
. . . the situation worsens in the Middle East as Israeli tanks, following a series of Palestinian attacks, surround Yasser Arafat's headquarters, cutting off the electricity, telephone service, water and pizza delivery. This is roughly the 25th time the Israelis have had Arafat surrounded, but the crafty leader persuades them to let him go by promising to take a shower, a pledge he immediately violates.
Meanwhile, the United States is treated to an:
AMAZING BUT ABSOLUTELY TRUE HOMELAND INSECURITY DEVELOPMENT -- On March 11, A Florida flight school receives formal notification from the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service that the INS has approved student visas for Mohamed Atta and Marwan al Shehhi, both of whom are currently deceased, having hijacked airplanes and flown them into the World Trade Center exactly six months earlier. Stung by the intense criticism that follows, the INS director vows that the agency will implement tough new procedures for reviewing visa applications, ''including, if necessary, actually reading the names.''
In other government action, Congress passes a campaign finance reform law, thus guaranteeing that, henceforth, politicians will not be influenced by money. Also, the sun will rise in the west. Meanwhile, the Whitewater investigation, which lasted six years and cost $70 million, finally comes to a close with the special prosecutor issuing a five-volume report concluding that Hillary Clinton ''probably'' dyes her hair.
In business news, investigators probing the Enron scandal finally track down the accounting firm of Arthur Andersen, which had sought to evade prosecution by changing its name to ''Arthur Smith'' and disguising its corporate headquarters with a gigantic red wig and sunglasses. Troops are sent to capture the firm, only to discover that the top auditors have escaped to . . . Iraq. The Department of Homeland Insecurity responds by ratcheting the nation up to a Code Ochre Alert Status (''Deeply Concerned''). The stock market drops 381 points.
On the religious front, the Catholic Archdiocese of Boston pays $23 million to a man who alleged that his parish priest, on more than a dozen occasions in the 1970s, exposed him to the soundtrack from Grease, and now he can't get it out of his head.
In entertainment news, the surprise TV hit is the The Osbournes, in which viewers follow the wacky antics of zonked-out rocker Ozzy Osbourne, played, in the performance of his career, by David Hasselhoff.
In the Academy Awards, the Oscar for best picture goes to A Beautiful Mind, the uplifting story of legendary mathematical genius John Nash, who received a Nobel Prize decades after his descent into insanity, caused by attempting to do his own income taxes. On the music front, the U.S. recording industry is buoyed by a report that 14-year-old Jason Plempitt of Knoxville, Tenn., went into a music store and actually purchased a CD, making him the first teenager in three years to pay money for a recording, rather than download it for free from the Internet. The humiliated youngster quickly informs his classmates that his computer is broken.
On a sadder note, two beloved public figures pass away: Milton ''Mister Television'' Berle, who was 93, and Britain's Queen Mother Elizabeth, who was 247. They are laid to rest in identical dresses.
But there is little rest to be had in . . .
. . . when Secretary of State Colin Powell travels to the Middle East to (a) restore peace to the troubled region and (b) receive a plaque from the Association of Troubled Middle East Travel Agencies honoring him for making the 5,000th official U.S. peacekeeping trip. At the awards ceremony, Powell jokes: ''We expect to get this thing resolved any day now,'' which gets a big laugh, punctuated by mortar fire. On Powell's arrival back in Washington, President Bush hails the trip as ''a major success,'' noting that the secretary of state brought home ''much of his original luggage.'' The stock market drops 518 points.
In France, the first round of the presidential elections produces alarming evidence of a right-wing resurgence in the country when the second-place vote-getter, finishing just behind incumbent Jacques Chirac, is Pat Buchanan.
In other international news, a euphoric Argentina president Eduardo Duhalde announces that he has received an e-mail stating that Argentina can make a surefire $500 million via a foolproof plan. All Argentina has to do is send $10 million to the top name on the e-mail list, which is . . . Iraq.
On the domestic terrorism front, the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service, tightening up its procedures, quietly reverses its decision to grant a student visa to Osama bin Laden. This decisive action enables the Department of Homeland Insecurity to ratchet the nation's Color Code Security Status all the way down to Mauve (''Calm, But Tense'').
Things are not so peaceful, however, in professional baseball, where a dispute between players and owners threatens to ruin the season, and with it the social lives of thousands of fantasy-baseball dweebs. At issue is what the players and owners can do to restore the good will and trust of pro baseball's increasingly alienated fans.
Ha ha! No, really, the issue is how each side can snag the most possible money before the game goes completely into the toilet. The talks open on a tense note, as the owners' charges of steroid abuse are met with vehement denials by players'-union representatives, who quickly reduce a large oak conference table to kindling.
In cultural news, Oprah Winfrey announces that she is discontinuing her book club, because she has run out of good titles to recommend to her audience, as evidenced by her final selection, Fifty Fun Celery Recipes.
Lisa ''Left Eye'' Lopes hip-hops off the big stage.
And speaking of the entertainment industry, in . . .
. . . the big news is the release of the fifth installment in the Star Wars series, Star Wars II, which continues to express creator/director George Lucas' artistic vision, summed up by the statement: ''I don't understand Roman numerals.'' The movie seems to be an effort by Lucas to connect with younger audiences, as evidenced by the exciting action scene in which Anakin Skywalker battles the evil Count Dooku in a deadly high-stakes game of Quidditch.
In other film news, al Qaeda, apparently seeking to disprove reports that its leader is dead, releases its latest video, The Osama bin Laden Fugitive Workout. The Department of Homeland Insecurity decides to ratchet the nation's Color Code Security Status up a notch to Key Lime (''Partly Cloudy'').
In other War on Terrorism developments, the Federal Transportation Security Administration opposes a proposal to let airline pilots carry guns, the official reasoning being that, hey, what if terrorists got on the plane, and in their struggle to kill the pilots so they could take control of the cockpit and fly the plane into a building and kill a lot more people, a pilot fired his gun at them, but missed? Somebody could get hurt!
On the international front, President Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin sign an arms-reduction treaty under which the U.S. will destroy about two-thirds of its nuclear arsenal, and Russia will ''make every effort, within reason'' to try to find out who, exactly, HAS its nuclear arsenal.
America observes Mother's Day in traditional fashion, with an estimated 125 million families taking their moms to dinner at an estimated three restaurants.
In economic news, Merrill Lynch agrees to pay a $100 million fine for luring naive investors into buying stocks in risky Internet companies. The firm will raise this money by luring naive investors into buying stocks in companies that have not yet tanked. The market responds by dropping 1,247 points.
In South Florida, efforts to create a new artificial reef out of the decommissioned navy ship Spiegel Grove go awry when the 510-foot vessel, instead of sinking as planned, is elected lieutenant governor. It's ''back to the drawing board'' for the state's beleaguered elections officials.
In entertainment news, the surprise hit TV ''reality show'' of the spring is India and Pakistan Threaten to Start a Nuclear War. But after a few weeks of waiting for something to happen, viewers become bored and go back to watching the perennial ratings favorite, Amateur Video of Police Officers Beating Up a Motorist.
In sports action, the World Cup gets under way with defending champion France playing Senegal -- a lowly underdog and former French colony -- in an exciting match that ends in a stunning upset win by . . . Iraq.
Sam Snead finally reaches the 19th hole.
And speaking of icons, in . . .
. . . Britain's Queen Elizabeth II celebrates the 50th year of her reign at a star-studded gala concert featuring performances by Paul McCartney, Phil Collins, Eric Clapton and Ozzy Osbourne, who, in the dramatic highlight of the evening, bites the head off one of the Queen's Welsh corgis.
But the mood is not so jubilant in the Middle East, where, following a series of Palestinian attacks, Israeli tanks again surround the headquarters of Yasser Arafat and slowly press against it until it is the size of a twin bed. The crafty Arafat escapes again by claiming he has a dental appointment.
Speaking of close calls: On June 14 a giant asteroid, discovered only three days earlier, passes within 75,000 miles of the Earth. Congress immediately holds hearings, with the Democrats charging that the Bush administration should have known about it sooner, and the Republicans noting that the asteroid had been heading this way during all eight years of the Clinton administration. The CIA acknowledges, under questioning, that at one point it was tracking the asteroid, but lost the file. In the end, all parties agree that airport security needs to be tightened.
In another alarming story, wildfires rage out of control in Colorado and several other western states, burning thousands of acres and destroying dozens of homes. Investigators searching an area where one of the largest blazes originated find a Zippo lighter bearing a thumbprint belonging to . . . Iraq.
The nation's Color Code Security Status is quickly raised to Maroon (''Dark Brownish Red'').
On Wall Street, the bad news continues. First, WorldCom announces that it has improperly accounted for $3.9 billion and has ''at least six'' movies seriously overdue for return to Blockbuster. Next Xerox, under pressure from investigators, admits that its second-quarter profits were actually a copy of its first-quarter profits. Next Martha Stewart is linked to a string of bank robberies. The stock market drops 11,600 points.
Ann Landers dies, but continues to dispense common-sense advice.
In legal news, a Dayton, Ohio, jury, in a unanimous verdict, orders five cigarette companies to pay $128 billion to a 67-year-old man, despite the fact that the man (a) is not a smoker; (b) has not sued anybody; and (c) is in fact on trial for littering. The American Trial Lawyers Association hails this as ''a major victory for our Porsche dealership.'' In California, a federal appeals court rules that schools cannot compel American schoolchildren to say the Pledge of Allegiance, on the grounds that ''allegiance'' has too many syllables.
And speaking of legal trouble, in . . .
. . . two pilots scheduled to fly an America West plane from Miami to Phoenix are ordered from the cockpit at Miami International Airport and found to be drunk. The pilots aroused suspicions when they made a preflight announcement asking if any passenger ''happens to have a corkscrew.''
In international news, the United Nations Security Council, finally taking action against a scourge that has plagued humanity for decades, unanimously passes a resolution authorizing member nations to ''feel free to shoot down the next bored billionaire who tries to fly around the world in a balloon.''
In financial news, Congress, addressing the corporate accounting scandals, approves the death penalty for anybody convicted of exercising a stock option. As the market plunges 128,500 points, Federal Reserve Board Chairman Alan Greenspan, in a move that fails to bolster investor confidence, announces that from now on he wants to be paid in gold.
In sports, baseball immortal Ted Williams dies. His son says the body will be frozen, so it can be revived in the future. A court approves this plan, on the condition that the son be frozen at the same time, so he can be revived in the future to explain everything to his dad. We wish.
In other science news, archaeologists announce that they have discovered a skull that is believed to be more than six million years old. Tests show that the skull does, indeed, belong to Sen. Strom Thurmond.
In political news, the U.S. House of Representatives votes to expel Rep. James Traficant (D-Sopranos) after a House Ethics Committee investigation shows that the thing on his head is a diseased weasel that has eaten nearly 80 percent of his brain. The vote to expel him is 420-1, with the lone dissenting vote coming from . . . Iraq.
Speaking of victims, Michael Jackson tells a New York rally that -- we are not making this up -- he has been oppressed by his record label. Concerned fans from around the world send donations of money, food, sequins and facial implants.
But a month of bad news ends on an upbeat note when rescuers break through to a collapsed Pennsylvania mine shaft and free nine miners who have been trapped 240 feet underground for more than three days. Also rescued are 157 lawyers who have burrowed down there to offer their services in the filing of lawsuits.
Speaking of money, in . . .
. . . financially strapped Brazil, in a cash-raising move considered by some experts in international law to be of questionable legality, announces that it has sold Uruguay to Paraguay for $200 million.
On the domestic front, the economic news continues to be bad, with these alarming developments:
The Council of Business Economists releases a study concluding that the U.S. economy will continue to worsen ''as long as ATT keeps running those commercials with Carrot Top.''
Airline-industry losses continue to mount, forcing America West, in a cost-cutting measure, to eliminate the cockpit mini-bar.
WorldCom executives admit to investigators that, in a clear deviation from accepted business accounting standards and practices, they heated their headquarters by burning money.
As the stock market plunges 1.2 million points, President Bush makes a speech urging Americans to ''have faith in our economy,'' adding: ''Thank God that I, personally, am guaranteed a generous pension.''
On a brighter note, the owners and players of Major League Baseball agree, in a heartwarming display of cooperation and concern for the National Pastime, to continue raking in money. Commissioner Bud Selig announces that, in an effort to win back the trust of disillusioned fans, ''we're going to fix it so Anaheim wins the Series.''
Lionel Hampton is gone, but his vibes ring on.
On the history front, divers seeking to recover the gun turret of the USS Monitor on the ocean floor off the coast of North Carolina discover surprising evidence that the Civil War gunship was sunk by . . . Iraq. The nation's Color Code Security Status is raised to Peach (''Viewer Discretion Advised'').
And speaking of fugitives: Martha Stewart, pursued by the Securities and Exchange Commission, flees to a remote area of Westport, Conn., and barricades herself inside a primitive cabin with only nine bathrooms. SEC agents surround the structure but are reluctant to attack, as Stewart is known to possess a set of very sharp paring knives and a military-grade glue gun. ''She can't hold out forever,'' states one agent. ''We believe she has only a three-day supply of fennel.''
But things get even scarier in . . .
. . . when Florida, having learned nothing from history, attempts to hold another election. Everything goes smoothly, with virtually no problems reported -- until the polls open. Then there is chaos, especially in Broward and Miami-Dade counties, which are using new computerized voting machines. Election officials begin to suspect that the system might have been programmed incorrectly when, instead of reporting the vote totals, the machines connect to the Internet and send out 126 million e-mails offering discount Viagra.
In other Florida news, police shut down I-75 for hours and arrest three men of Middle Eastern descent after a woman reports that she overheard them in a Shoney's restaurant talking about what she believed to be a terrorist plot. It turns out to be a misunderstanding: The men are medical students. Responding quickly, the Department of Homeland Insecurity orders all 350 Shoney's to install metal detectors.
Robert Torricelli announces that he is dropping out of the New Jersey Senate race because he is a good man who has done nothing wrong. The state Democratic party, looking for a ''name'' to replace him on the ballot, decides, in a move of questionable legality, to go with ''John F. Kennedy.''
U.S. news organizations observe the anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks with investigative reports about the nation's continued vulnerability to terrorism. First, the New York Daily News reports that two of its reporters carried box cutters, razor knives and pepper spray on 14 commercial flights without getting caught. Then ABC News reports that it smuggled 15 pounds of uranium into New York City. Then Fox News reports that it flew Osama bin Laden to Washington, D.C., and videotaped him touring the White House. The nation's Color Code Security Status is ratcheted up to its third-highest level, Burnt Umber (''Medium Rare'').
On the medical front, an outbreak of the deadly West Nile virus prompts six states to enact strict laws requiring the registration of mosquitoes. It does not go unnoticed by the Bush administration that the West Nile is probably in the same general area as . . . Iraq.
In entertainment news, the coveted Emmy for best TV drama goes to the new hit show, Mall Parking Lot Surveillance Video of Woman Belting Her Child, which is running on all major networks 24 hours a day to guard against the danger that somebody, somewhere, might have missed it. The grand prize in the phenomenally popular talent-search show American Idol is won by perky female singer Kelly Clarkson, played, in the performance of his career, by David Hasselhoff.
In financial news, agents of the Securities and Exchange Commission stage a pre-dawn attack on the Martha Stewart cabin, only to discover that the domestic diva has escaped through a 600-yard tunnel, which she apparently dug by hand using a heart-shaped dessert scoop (stainless steel, dishwasher safe, $38 at marthastewart.com). The stock market falls to minus infinity, its lowest level in nearly two weeks.
But the bad news only gets worse in . . .
. . . when the Washington, D.C., area is terrorized by a string of deadly sniper attacks. After weeks of escalating fear and tension, police are finally able to break the case by identifying, then arresting, the only two males in the United States who have not appeared on CNN or Fox as sniper experts.
Speaking of terror: Saddam Hussein, having campaigned under the catchy populist slogan ''A Vote For Saddam Is A Vote for Not Getting Both Your Feet Chopped Off Without Anesthetic,'' is re-elected with a solid 127 percent of the popular vote, which includes several thousand votes apparently cast via Internet from Broward and Miami-Dade counties.
Another closely watched election is held in Brazil, where the voters -- in a move sure to inspire confidence in the international financial community -- elect, as their new president, a man named ''Lula.'' The economic news is not so good in the United States, where the New York Stock Exchange, in what is seen by many analysts as a troubling sign, announces that it will henceforth be operating out of a pushcart in Battery Park.
But the scariest news comes from North Korea, which announces that, in violation of a 1994 agreement with the United States, it is developing nuclear weapons. An angry President Bush responds by pointing out that ''if you spell Korea backward, you get Aerok, which sounds a heck of a lot like . . . Iraq.'' Reacting quickly, the Department of Homeland Insecurity produces, in mere hours, a new National Security Color Code: Tangerine (''UH-oh'').
In politics, a tragic plane crash claims the life of Sen. Paul Wellstone of Minnesota, whose loss is mourned at a memorial service featuring rousing eulogies and music by Limp Bizkit. The state's Democratic Party, looking for a replacement with name recognition, taps Walter Mondale, who, after some prompting, is indeed able to recognize his name. In a speech accepting the nomination, Mondale confidently predicts that he will ''send Mr. Reagan back to California.''
In the feel-good sports story of the year, the plucky and spunky Anaheim Angels, in what almost seems like a scripted outcome, defeat the San Francisco Barry Bonds in a nail-biter of a World Series that captivates millions of viewers, including several dozen living outside of California.
And speaking of contests, in . . .
. . . the Republicans win big in the mid-term elections, giving President Bush a clear mandate to push forward with his foreign and domestic agendas, as soon as he thinks a domestic agenda up. In a somber post-election speech, the president reaffirms his solemn commitment, no matter how long it takes, to learn to pronounce ''nuclear.'' The Democrats, desperate for leadership and beginning to realize that Walter Mondale is not the answer, begin making discreet inquiries into the availability of Hubert Humphrey. In Florida, the computerized voting goes surprisingly smoothly, with election officials reporting no major ''glitches,'' and a strong turnout of 87 trillion voters.
Al Gore emerges from his Resting Pod to let everyone know that he is not at ALL bitter about the fact that he was TOTALLY ripped off in 2000 and really should be the president, and is WAY smarter than George W., not to mention that Tipper is WAY more of a babe than Laura. The former vice president declares that he has not decided whether he will run for president again; he mulls this difficult question over in a series of heartfelt self-probing appearances on Meet the Press, Larry King Live, the Today show, The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, Late Night with David Letterman, Monday Night Football, Emeril Live, The Simpsons and the Victoria's Secret Fashion Show, where Gore expresses his belief that the dominant issue of the 21st century will be biodegradable underwear.
World tension eases when Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, under intense international pressure, announces that he will allow U.N. weapons inspectors ''full access to Ahvaz, Hamedan, Mashad, Rasht, Urmiya and Zahedan.'' World tension increases again when the UN inspectors, having visited these sites, report that they are located in Iran.
Elsewhere in the War on Terrorism, Osama bin Laden, apparently concerned that he has been overshadowed in recent months by other world personalities, releases a new audio tape, in which he states that he is ''available for meetings, parties, weddings and corporate functions.'' In Yemen, a vehicle carrying a top al Qaeda leader is vaporized by a Hellfire missile fired by an unmanned U.S. drone plane. Many Americans ask the obvious question: If we have this technology, why haven't we used it on . . . Geraldo?
In entertainment news, nearly 30 million viewers tune in to watch the finale of The Bachelor, in which banker Aaron Buerge chooses, as his bride-to-be, psychologist Helene Eksterowicz, much to the dismay of the popular favorite runner-up, David Hasselhoff. Michael Jackson takes time out from his busy schedule of being an oppressed humanitarian to demonstrate the correct method for displaying an infant to a crowd from a fifth-floor balcony. Actress Winona Ryder is convicted of shoplifting, surprising CNN and Fox shoplifting experts, who had been predicting for weeks that she would be a white male loner.
In an ominous development, SEC agents confirm reports that Martha Stewart recently contracted with a leading New York architectural firm to design her a cave. The National Security Color Code is quickly bumped up to Jalapeño (''Everyone DOWN!'').
Speaking of scary situations, in . . .
. . . hopes for peace soar when Saddam Hussein, as ordered by the UN, finally turns over a list of materials that could be used to make weapons of mass destruction. These hopes are dashed when U.N. inspectors begin translating the list from Arabic and find that the first item is ''a partridge in a pear tree.''
Not to be outshone on the international stage, Osama bin Laden issues a press release stating that he is involved in ''serious negotiations'' with a ''major studio'' for ''an important role in Jackass II.''
On the economic front, a group of troubled U.S. airlines, faced with overwhelming losses, announces that, in an effort to cut fuel costs, their pilots will periodically turn off the engines during flight and coast for what an airline spokesperson describes as ''a reasonable distance.'' The spokesperson stresses that this procedure ''is perfectly safe'' and will be used ''only over soft terrain.''
In another troubling story, a new medical study shows that Americans are not only fat, but they are also starting to give off what researchers describe as ''a really bad smell.''
In a surprise political development, Al Gore, having apparently received a status report from earth, announces that he will not run for president in 2004. Within hours the Democratic party leadership, reacting to this devastating news, runs out of champagne. On the Republican side, Sen. Trent Lott gets himself into hot water when the news media report that (a) he suggested Strom Thurmond would be a good president; and (b) his DNA is virtually identical to that of a mackerel.
Congress, in a widely hailed and long-overdue effort to control the worsening celebrity glut, passes a law requiring that when a TV show such as American Idol creates a star, at least one existing star must be deported. Within hours, the Backstreet Boys are on an Air Force transport bound for Uzbekistan.
But the news is not so good from a remote, forbidding mountain region near Westport, Conn., where SEC agents prepare to attack a 24,500-square-foot, centrally heated, country-French-style cave containing Martha Stewart, only to discover that their worst-case nightmare scenario has become a reality: The fugitive taste goddess has gotten hold of a nuclear food processor. ''If she presses the power button,'' states one official, ''New England is radioactive cole slaw.'' In response, the National Security Color Code is ratcheted up to its highest level, Traffic Cone Orange (''Yipes'').
And thus the year ends on a somewhat disturbing note. But this does not prevent the nation from pausing, on the eve of 2003, to gather with friends, to drink champagne, to blow into cardboard horns, to sing Auld Lang Syne, to reflect on the year gone past, and above all to realize, a little too late, that those cardboard horns are manufactured abroad and would make a perfect vehicle for spreading chemical or biological warfare agents.
But happy new year, anyway.
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