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December 28, 2005

Dave Barry’s Year in Review

It was the Year of the Woman. But not in a good way.

Oh, I’m not saying that men did nothing stupid or despicable in 2005. Of course they did! That’s why we call them “men.”

But women are supposed to be better than men. Women are the backbone of civilization: They keep families together, nurture relationships, uphold basic standards of morality and go to the bathroom without making noise. Women traditionally shun the kinds of pointless, brutal, destructive activities that so often involve men, such as mass murder and fantasy football.

But not this year. Women got CRAZY this year. Consider some of the more disturbing stories from 2005, and look at the names connected with them: Martha Stewart. Judith Miller. Valerie Plame. Jennifer “Runaway Bride” Wilbanks. Paris Hilton. Greta “All Natalee Holloway, All the Time” Van Susteren. Harriet Miers. Katrina. Rita. Wilma. Michael Jackson.

Of course, not all the alarming stories from 2005 involved women. Some of them involved men, and at least one of those men was named “Scooter.” I’ll be honest: I don’t really know who “Scooter” is, or what he allegedly did. He’s involved in one of those Washington, D.C.-style scandals that are very, very important, but way too complicated for regular non-Beltway humans to comprehend.

But whatever Scooter allegedly did, it was bad. We know this because pretty much all the news this year was bad. Oh, sure, there were some positive developments. Here is a complete list:
• In some areas, the price of gasoline, much of the time, remained below $5 a gallon.
• Nobody you know caught avian flu. Yet.
• The Yankees once again failed to win the World Series.
• Cher actually ended her farewell tour.
That was it for the good news. The rest of 2005 was a steady diet of misery, horror and despair, leavened occasionally by deep anxiety. So just for fun, let’s take a look back, starting with ...

JANUARY
... when President George W. Bush is sworn in for a second term, pledging in his inauguration speech that, over the next four years, he will continue, to the best of his ability, trying to pronounce big words. In a strongly worded rebuttal, the Democratic leadership points out that, when you get right down to it, there IS no Democratic leadership.
In other government news, President Bush’s nominee to be U.S. attorney general, Alberto Gonzales, undergoes a grueling Senate hearing in which Democrats probe him repeatedly about his views on torture. At one point the Democrats threaten that, if Gonzales does not give them the information they want, they will force him to listen, without ear protection, to a question from Sen. Joe Biden. “No!” screams Gonzales. “Anything but that!”
Johnny Carson, an oasis of wit in the wasteland, signs off for good.
In sports, the winner of the Orange Bowl — and thus the national college football championship — is Lance Armstrong, who is once again suspected of being on something.

Meanwhile in Iraq, the first free elections in half a century are held under tense but generally scary conditions, with more than 8 million Iraqis turning out to elect a National Assembly, whose idealistic goal, in the coming months, will be to not get blown up.
But the mood is more upbeat in ...

FEBRUARY
... which dawns on a hopeful note in the Middle East, where Israelis and Palestinians, after decades of bitter violence and short-lived truces, are finally able to ...
Never mind.

In other hopeful news, President Bush, seeking to patch up the troubled relationship between the United States and its European allies, embarks on a four-nation tour. When critics note that two of the nations are not actually located in Europe, the White House responds that the president was “acting on the best intelligence available at the time.”

In sports, the Super Bowl is held for the first time in Jacksonville, Fla. Defying critics who mocked it as a backwater hick town, Jacksonville manages to host a fine event, marred only by the 143 spectators killed or wounded during the halftime raccoon shoot.

On the social front, Prince Charles gets formally engaged to Camilla Parker Bowles. The British public responds with sincere and heartfelt wishes that the happy couple will not reproduce.

A study by researchers at the University of Utah proves what many people have long suspected: Everybody talking on a cell phone, except you, is a moron.
Meanwhile, as the nationwide identity-theft epidemic worsens, FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III pledges that he will make it the top priority of the Bureau to find, and prosecute, the individuals charging stuff to his American Express card.

Speaking of financial hanky-panky, in ...

MARCH
... a federal jury convicts former WorldCom executive Bernie Ebbers in connection with an $11 billion fraud that led to the bankruptcy of the telecom giant. Upon Ebbers’ arrival at the federal prison, nearly $7 billion is recovered during what shaken guards later describe as “the cavity search from hell.”

In economic news, financially troubled Delta Airlines announces that it will no longer offer pillows on its flights, because passengers keep eating them. But the economy gets a boost when the jobless rate plummets, as hundreds of thousands of unemployed cable-TV legal experts are hired to comment on the trial of Michael Jackson. Jackson is charged with 10 counts of being a space-alien freakadelic weirdo. Everybody agrees this will be very difficult to prove in California.

In a related story, a California jury finds that actor Robert Blake did not kill his wife. The jury also rules that John Wilkes Booth had nothing to do with the Lincoln assassination, and that bears do not poop in the woods. In other celebrity legal news, Martha Stewart is released from prison. The next morning, in a chilling coincidence, all of the witnesses who testified against Martha wake up and discover, to their utter horror, that their sheets no longer match their pillowcases.

Meanwhile in Washington, the U.S. House of Representatives takes time out from jacking up the deficit to look into the baffling mystery of whether professional baseball players suddenly develop gigantic muscles because they use steroids, or what. Former St. Louis Cardinals star Mark McGwire, who holds the major-league record for most home runs in a single season, arouses suspicions when he repeatedly denies, under oath, that he ever played professional baseball. Slugger Sammy Sosa also heatedly denies allegations of steroid use, emphasizing his point by pounding the witness table into tiny splinters. There are no questions.

But the major issue facing our elected leaders in March clearly is not whether a bunch of overpaid athletes cheated. No, at a time when the nation is beset by serious problems in so many critical areas — including Iraq, terrorism, the economy, energy, education and health care — the issue that obsesses our elected leaders to the point of paralyzing government at the federal, state and local levels for weeks, is: Terri Schiavo’s feeding tube. This, unfortunately, is not a joke.

In entertainment news, controversial anchorman Dan Rather retires from CBS News with a poignant farewell speech, cut short when Dan is felled by a tranquilizer dart fired by his producer.

Speaking of people who read from TelePrompTers, in ...

APRIL
... President Bush, in a decisive response to sharply rising gasoline prices, delivers a major speech proposing that Americans switch to nuclear-powered cars. In a strongly worded rebuttal, angry Congressional Democrats state that, because of a scheduling mix-up, they missed the president’s speech, but whatever he said, they totally disagree with it, and if they once voted in favor of it, they did so only because the president lied to them.

In other Washington news, the U.S. Senate approves the appointment of John Negroponte to become the nation’s first intelligence czar. His immediate task is to locate his office, which, according to a dossier compiled by the CIA, FBI, NSA and military intelligence, is, quote, “probably somewhere in the United States or Belgium.”

In Rome, the College of Cardinals gathers following the death of beloved Pope John Paul II. As the world waits breathlessly, the cardinals, after two days of secret deliberations, order white smoke to be sent up the Sistine Chapel chimney, signaling that they have made their decision: Robert Blake is definitely guilty.

In sports, Tiger Woods claims his fourth Masters title with a dramatic playoff win over a surprisingly dogged Lance Armstrong.

As April draws to a close, the nation focuses its eyeballs on bride-to-be Jennifer Wilbanks, whose claim that she was abducted just before her wedding is undermined by a widely circulated photo of her in which her pupils appear to be the size of dinner plates. When it becomes clear that nothing actually happened — that there was no abduction, and that Wilbanks is basically just a troubled person — the news media drop the story and move on to more important matters.

Ha ha! Seriously, as April morphs into ...

MAY
... the Runaway Bride story totally dominates the news, becoming so gigantically huge that some cable-TV news shows are forced to divert precious resources from the Michael Jackson trial. But in the end sanity prevails, and Wilbanks is forced to accept responsibility for the trouble she has caused, ultimately selling media rights to her story for a reported $500,000.

In other show-business news, millions of middle-aged people without dates wet their Luke-Skywalker-model underpants with joy as they view the final installment of the beloved Star Wars series, “Star Wars: Episode MXCVII: Enough Already.” Fans hail it as the least tedious Star Wars in decades; many are stunned by the surprise ending, when it turns out that Darth Vader is actually Robert Blake.

Tom Cruise, seeking to counter the increasingly widespread view that he is an orbiting space module, jumps up and down on Oprah’s couch.

Elsewhere abroad, European Union leaders are stunned when the proposed EU constitution is overwhelmingly rejected by French voters, who apparently do not care for the Deodorant Clause. President Bush visits Russia for an important photo opportunity, after which he describes Russia as “a foreign country where they speak Russian,” an assertion that is immediately challenged by Congressional Democrats.

In media news, the editor of Newsweek magazine retracts a report that guards at the Guantanamo Bay prison flushed a Koran down a toilet in front of a Muslim detainee. “It turns out,” the editor states, “that it was actually the detainee who was flushed down the toilet. Boy is our face red!”

But the biggest media shocker occurs when “Deep Throat,” the Watergate-scandal source whose identity has been a tantalizing secret for more than 30 years, is finally revealed — in a stunning and unforgettable development that sends shock waves of shock throughout the world — to be ... Let me just check Google here ... OK, it was some guy nobody ever heard of. But it was totally unexpected.

Speaking of unexpected, in ...

JUNE
... a California jury acquits Michael Jackson on all charges of everything, including any crimes he may or may not commit in the future. “We simply felt that the prosecution did not prove its case,” states the jury foreman, Robert Blake. Jackson announces that he no longer feels welcome in the United States and will move to another dimension.

In disturbing medical news, a new study of 1,000 Americans finds that obesity in the United States has gotten so bad that there actually were, upon closer scrutiny, only 600 Americans involved in the study.

Meanwhile, the U.S. film industry, in the midst of the worst box-office slump in 20 years, looks for possible explanations as to why Americans are not flocking to movie theaters. In a totally unrelated development, “The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl” opens nationwide, to be followed in coming months by “The Dukes of Hazzard” and “Deuce Bigalow, European Gigolo.”
Israeli and Palestinian leaders reach an agreement under which Israel will withdraw its settlers from the Gaza strip, arousing peace hopes in amnesia victims everywhere. In response to this historic development, Fox News Person Greta Van Susteren heads for Aruba to report personally on the Natalee Holloway disappearance.

Hurricane season officially begins, with a spokesman for the National Hurricane Center warning that, quote, “This could be one of the most active sEEEEEEEEE ...” His body is never found.

The U.S. Supreme Court, in a Solomonic ruling on a display of the Ten Commandments at the Texas Capitol, allows the display to remain, but orders the state to correct all 137 spelling errors. The Supreme Court remains in the news in ...

JULY
... when Justice Sandra Day O’Connor announces her retirement, setting off a heated debate between right-wing groups, who think the president should appoint a conservative to replace her, and left-wing groups, who think the president should drop dead. Eventually Bush nominates a man going by the moniker of “John Roberts,” who, in the tradition of recent Supreme Court nominees, refuses to reveal anything about himself, and wears a Zorro-style mask to protect his secret identity. In response, Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee, led by Sen. Joe Biden, vow to, quote, “get on television a LOT.”

But the juiciest story by far in Washington is the riveting scandal involving New York Times reporter Judy Miller, who is jailed for refusing to answer questions before a grand jury called by special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald, who is trying to find out whether the name of CIA agent Valerie Plame was leaked to columnist Robert Novak by an administration source such as presidential confidants Karl Rove or Ari Fleischer, or Lewis “Scooter” Libby, chief of staff to vice president Dick “Dick” Cheney, in an effort to discredit Plame’s husband, former ambassador Joseph Wilson, in connection with the use of allegedly unreliable documents concerning ... Hey! Wake up! This is important!

The troubled U.S. manned-space flight program hits yet another snag when, moments before the “return to space” launch of Space Shuttle Discovery, a technician notices that the shuttle and its booster rockets are pointed at the ground, instead of space. The launch is delayed for several days while workers repaint the “THIS SIDE UP” arrows.

In weather news, the formation of Hurricane Dennis is followed closely by the formation of Hurricane Emily, arousing suspicions among some staffers at headquarters of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) that hurricane season might be going on. It is agreed that somebody probably should look into this and write a report no later than Halloween.

Abroad, the news from London is grim as four terrorist bombs wreak deadly havoc on the city’s transit systems, prompting Greta Van Susteren to do a series of urgent personal reports from Aruba on how these attacks could affect the investigation into the Natalee Holloway disappearance.

In sports, Lance Armstrong rides down the Champs-Elysees, raising his arms in a triumphant gesture, which causes the French army to surrender instantly.

No, sorry; that was a cheap shot. One unit held out for nearly an hour.

In book news, millions of youngsters snap up the latest in the Harry Potter series, “Harry Potter Must Be Like 32 Years Old By Now.” The book has a surprise plot twist that upsets some fans: Beloved Hogwarts headmaster, Albus Dumbledore, is killed by Severus Snape, who, moments later, is acquitted by a California jury.

Speaking of surprises that nobody could have predicted, in ...

AUGUST
... Baltimore Orioles star Rafael Palmeiro, who vigorously denied steroid use when he testified before Congress in March, is forced to change his story when, in the seventh inning of a game against Cleveland, both of his forearms explode.

In other news, South Korean scientists — I am not making this item up — clone a dog. This one is too easy.

In Washington, President Bush bypasses Congress with a recess appointment of his controversial nominee John Bolton, to be U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. Bolton immediately signals a new tone in American diplomacy by punching out the ambassador from Yemen in a dispute involving the U.N. cafeteria salad bar.

In other foreign-policy news, the Rev. Pat Robertson states on his Christian Broadcasting Network show that the United States should assassinate Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. Responding to harsh criticism, the Rev. Robertson retracts this statement several days later with the explanation, “Evidently I am a raving lunatic.”

On the economic front, there is bad news and good news. The bad news is, gasoline prices are reaching $3 a gallon. The good news is, with the manufacturer’s rebate, you can buy a new Hummer for $167.

But by far the biggest story in August is Hurricane Katrina, a massive, deadly storm that thrashes Florida, then heads into the Gulf of Mexico. For decades, experts have been warning that such a storm, if it were to hit New Orleans, would devastate the city; now it becomes clear that this is exactly what is about to happen. For days, meteorologists are on television warning, dozens of times per hour, that Katrina will, in fact, hit New Orleans with devastating results. Armed with this advance knowledge, government officials at the local, state and federal levels are in a position to be totally, utterly shocked when Katrina — of all things — devastates New Orleans. For several days, chaos reigns, with most of the relief effort taking the form of Geraldo Rivera, who, by his own estimate, saves more than 170,000 people.

FEMA director Michael Brown, after conducting an aerial survey, reports that “the situation is improving,” only to be informed that the area he surveyed was actually Phoenix. For her part, Greta Van Susteren personally broadcasts many timely reports from Aruba on how the Katrina devastation will affect the ongoing Natalee Holloway investigation.
It is not until ...

SEPTEMBER
... that the full magnitude of the New Orleans devastation sinks in, and local, state and federal officials manage to get their act together and begin the difficult, painstaking work of blaming each other for screwing up. Urged on by President Bush, Congress votes to spend what could wind up being more than $200 billion to repair the Gulf Coast and fix up New Orleans, so that it will be just as good as new when the next devastating hurricane devastates it.

With the horror of Katrina fresh in everyone’s mind, a new hurricane, Rita, draws a bead on the Gulf Coast, causing millions of panicky Texans to get into their cars and flee an average distance of 150 feet before they become stuck in a monster traffic jam, where some remain for more than 12 hours. “It was hell,” reports one traumatized victim. “The classic rock station played ‘Daydream Believer’ like 53 freaking times.”

President Bush, after an aerial tour of the devastated region, tells reporters that he always kind of liked “Daydream Believer.”

In non-hurricane news, the Senate confirms the Supreme Court nominee known as “John Roberts” after the Judiciary Committee spends several fruitless days trying to trick him into expressing an opinion by asking trap questions such as, “Can you tell us the capital of Vermont and your views on abortion?” The only moment of drama comes when Sen. Joe Biden launches into his opening remarks, thus causing several committee members, who forgot to insert earplugs, to lapse into comas.

In international news, North Korea, following months of negotiations with the United States and other concerned nations, agrees to stop producing nuclear weapons, in exchange for one of those new iPods. The United Nations Security Council censures John Bolton for giving noogies to the ambassador from Sweden.
Speaking of appointees, in ...

OCTOBER
... President Bush, needing to make another appointment to the Supreme Court, conducts a thorough and painstaking investigation of every single woman lawyer within an 8-foot radius of his desk. He concludes that the best person for the job is White House Counsel Harriet Miers, who, in the tradition of such legendary justices as Felix Frankfurter, Louis Brandeis and Oliver Wendell Holmes, is a carbon-based life form.

Ultimately Miers withdraws her name. The president, after conducting another exhaustive search, decides to appoint “John Roberts” again, because it worked out so well the first time. Informed by his aides that there could be some legal problem with this tactic, the president finally decides to nominate Samuel Alito. Democrats immediately announce that they strongly oppose Alito and intend to do some research soon to find out why.

In Congress, Tom DeLay’s ethical woes worsen as he is indicted on additional charges of hijacking a train.

As fears of a worldwide avian flu epidemic mount, the surgeon general warns Americans against having unprotected sex with birds. Fortunately there is no sign yet of the deadly disease on Aruba, thus allowing the Natalee Holloway investigation to continue unimpeded, according to on-the-scene reporter Greta Van Susteren.

In Iraq, Saddam Hussein goes on trial, facing charges of genocide, human-rights violations and failure to pay more than $173 billion in parking tickets. In his opening statement, the defiant former dictator tells the court he intends to prove that these crimes were actually committed by Tom DeLay.

In sports, the National Hockey League, amid much hoopla, resumes play, fueling rumors that the league must have, at some point, stopped playing. Immediately dozens of fights break out, all of them won by Lance Armstrong.
Speaking of conflict, in ...

NOVEMBER
... Americans find themselves heatedly debating a difficult question: Is it truly in the nation’s best interests for its citizens to be fighting, and suffering heavy casualties, to achieve the elusive — some say, impossible — goal of buying a laptop computer marked down to $300 at Wal-Mart the day after Thanksgiving? For many Americans, the answer is a resounding “yes,” as they observe the official start of the Christmas shopping season at 5 a.m. on Nov. 25 with the traditional Trampling of the Elderly Slow-Moving Shoppers, while the mall p.a. system interrupts “O Come, All Ye Faithful” with urgent requests for paramedics. The season’s hottest gift is the Microsoft Xbox 360 gaming system, which is in big demand because (a) it’s really cool, and (b) Microsoft apparently made, like, three of them.

Also heating up in November is the debate over Iraq, with even Vice President Dick Cheney joining in, fueling rumors that he is still alive. President Bush makes a series of strong speeches, stating that while he “will not impugn the patriotism” of those who oppose his administration’s policies, they are “traitor scum.” This outrages congressional Democrats, who respond with a two-pronged strategy of (1) demanding that the troops be brought home, and (2) voting overwhelmingly against a resolution to bring the troops home.

TRUE ITEM: During the debate on Iraq, Rep. Marion Berry (D-Ark.) calls U.S. Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas) “a Howdy Doody-looking nimrod.”

Tom DeLay is indicted for cattle rustling.

Abroad, unemployed ghetto youths in France go on a weeks-long rampage, burning thousands of cars to express their view that being an unemployed French ghetto youth sucks. Outraged, French President Jacques Chirac announces that, as a precautionary move, he is relocating the army to Belgium.
In one of the month’s more bizarre stories, a luxury cruise ship off the coast of Somalia is attacked by pirates in inflatable boats. The pirates are armed with machine guns and grenade launchers; unfortunately for them, the passengers are armed with cruise-ship food. The pirates barely escape with their lives under a deadly hail of falling entrees, including slabs of prime rib the size of queen mattresses.

ABSOLUTELY TRUE NOVEMBER ITEM: Michael “Heckuva Job” Brown, who resigned after being harshly criticized for his performance as FEMA director following Katrina, announces that he is starting a consulting business that will — you are going to think I am making this up, but I am not — advise clients on preparing for disasters.

And “disaster” is clearly the word for ...

DECEMBER
... which begins on a troubling economic note, as General Motors, the world’s largest auto maker, announces that, despite a massive program of rebates, zero-interest financing, employee discounts, lifetime mechanical warranties and dealer incentives, it has not actually sold a car since March 1998. “We’re in real trouble,” states troubled CEO Rick Wagoner, adding, “Even I drive a Kia.”

In other troubling financial news, Delta Air Lines announces a plan to convert its entire fleet of planes to condominiums. Within hours, the housing bubble bursts.

The hurricane season, which has produced so many storms that the National Weather Service is now naming them after fraternities, fails to end as scheduled, as yet another hurricane, Epsilon, forms in the Atlantic. The good news is that Epsilon poses no threat whatsoever to land. The bad news is, it still manages to knock out power to most of South Florida.

In politics, Republicans and Democrats debate the war in Iraq with increasing bitterness, although both sides agree on the critical importance, with American troops in harm’s way, of continuing to jack up the deficit. Tom DeLay flees to California, where a friendly jury agrees to hide him in the barn until things cool off.

Abroad, Western nations become increasingly suspicious that Iran is developing nuclear weapons when a giant mushroom cloud rises over the Iranian desert. The Iranian government quickly issues a statement explaining that the cloud was caused by, quote, “mushrooms.” As a precautionary measure, France surrenders anyway.

Greta Van Susteren is elected prime minister of Aruba.

As the troubled year draws to a troubling close, yet another hurricane, Kappa Sigma Gamma, forms in the South Atlantic, threatening to blast the U.S. mainland with a load of energy that, according to the National Hurricane Center, is the equivalent of 17 trillion sixpacks of Bud Light. On an even more ominous note, officials of the World Health Organization reveal that — in what disease researchers have been calling “the nightmare scenario” — a mad cow has become infected with bird flu. “We don’t want to cause panic,” state the officials, “but we give the human race six weeks, tops.”
So, OK, we’re doomed. But look at the upside: If humanity becomes extinct, there’s a chance that Paris Hilton will, too. So put on your party hat, raise your champagne glass, and join with me in this festive toast: Happy New Year!
Or however long it lasts.

Dave Barry is a humor columnist for the Miami Herald. Write to him c/o The Miami Herald, One Herald Plaza, Miami FL 33132.