It was the Year of the Troubling Question.
The most troubling one was: What the heck happened to all those weapons of mass destruction that were supposed to be in Iraq? Apparently there was an intelligence mix-up. As CIA director George Tenet noted recently, "Our thinking now is that the weapons of mass destruction might actually be in that other one, whaddycallit, Iran. Or Michigan. We're pretty sure the letter 'i' is involved."
Some other troubling questions from 2003 were:
- If Californians hated Gray Davis so much, why did they elect him governor TWICE? Did Gray have photos of the entire California electorate naked? Can we see them?
- Why did Jennifer Lopez and Ben Affleck -- whose sole achievement in 2003 was to co-star in "Gigli," a film so bad it was used to torture suspected terrorists -- receive more media attention than the entire continent of Asia, and nearly as much as Kobe Bryant?
- Can young people wear their pants any lower? Their waistbands are now at approximately knee level. Where will this trend end? Will young people eventually detach themselves from their pants altogether and just drag them along behind, connected to their ankles by a belt?
We don't know the answers to any of these questions. All we know is that 2003 is finally, we hope, over. But before we move on, let's put our heads between our knees and take one last look back at this remarkable year, which started, as is so often the case, with:
... which begins with traditional New Year's Day celebrations all over the world, except at the Central Intelligence Agency, which, acting on what it believes to be accurate information, observes Thanksgiving.
In college football, the University of Miami Hurricanes defeat Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl and reign as national champions for roughly a week, at the end of which a Fiesta Bowl official -- a man with the reaction time of a Sequoia, who has been standing in the end zone the whole time, reflecting on the final play -- throws a penalty flag, thus giving the game to Ohio State in what future legal scholars will deem the most flagrant miscarriage of justice in human history. Not that we Miami fans are still bitter.
In pro football, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers defeat the heavily favored Oakland Raiders and win the Super Bowl, despite the objections of Fiesta Bowl officials who want to award the victory to Ohio State.
Speaking of setbacks, in ...
... U.S. coalition-building efforts are dealt a severe blow when France announces that it will not participate in the impending Iraq invasion, a decision that, in the words of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, "could seriously impair our ability to surrender."
Elsewhere in the War on Terror, the Department of Homeland Security urges Americans to stock up on food, water, flashlights, duct tape and plastic sheeting. Within hours, al-Qaida surrenders, stating: "We cannot fight flashlights AND duct tape."
Meanwhile, tension between the U.S. and North Korea continues to mount as North Korea, in what the White House calls "a deliberate act of provocation," uses nuclear missiles to destroy Columbus, Ohio. A visibly angry President Bush warns the North Koreans that they "better not give any of those missiles to Iraq."
On the economic front, the struggling airline industry undergoes another round of cost-cutting, highlighted by United Airlines' announcement that, beginning in March, passengers on international flights "will have to eat each other."
And things only get worse in ...
... when North Korean troops invade Oregon, prompting a grim-faced President Bush to declare that "time is running out for the Iraqi regime." But the U.S. continues to have trouble getting other nations to join the coalition, and is forced to bribe Turkey by giving the Turkish government an "economic aid package" consisting of $37 billion in cash, plus unlimited nighttime and weekend minutes, plus what is described as a "hard-to-get video" of Britney Spears. With Turkey on board, the coalition now consists of seven nations, assuming you count Guam, Puerto Rico and Staten Island as nations.
On March 19, coalition forces attack Iraq; within days they control most of the southern part of the country and have taken many prisoners, including two of the three known Dixie Chicks. They do not immediately uncover any weapons of mass destruction, but do find a warehouse containing a large quantity of what is believed to be refined sugar, which CIA intelligence analysts note "is a leading cause of tooth decay."
In non-war news, the Academy Awards are held, with the Oscar for Best Picture going to "Chicago," only to be taken away by a Fiesta Bowl official and awarded to Ohio State.
And speaking of drama, in ...
... coalition forces capture Baghdad, and hopes soar for a quick resolution to the conflict when a cheering Iraqi crowd topples a huge statue of Saddam. But these hopes are quickly dashed when, tragically, the statue fails to land on Geraldo.
Saddam himself is nowhere to be found, though he does release a videotape announcing plans to take his career "in a new direction," possibly including a "reality" TV show called "Queer Eye for a Dictator Guy," in which he will undergo a makeover by five gay men, who will then be executed.
In other news:
- The New York Times suffers a credibility crisis when numerous stories by reporter Jayson Blair are found to contain inaccuracies, such as the assertion, in a story about the DC-area sniper case, that the sun is carried across the sky by a giant turtle. ("In fact," notes the Times, "it is the moon.") Blair, thoroughly disgraced, is forced to accept a six-figure book contract.
- North Korean troops capture Wisconsin.
But things brighten a bit in ...
... when President Bush lands on the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln off the coast of California and declares, to a crowd of sailors, that major combat has ended. The jubilation is dampened somewhat when, moments after the president's plane departs, the carrier is severely damaged by a car bomb.
Elsewhere abroad, Chinese health authorities, stung by accusations that they have been slow in reacting to the SARS virus, announce that they will execute anybody who gets sick.
In domestic news, Congress enacts massive tax cuts in an effort to, in the words of a Republican leader, "see if we can push the deficit over the skillion-dollar mark."
North Korean troops occupy the Washington Monument.
In entertainment news, CNN switches to a new format that consists entirely of Larry King talking to former prosecutors about Laci Peterson.
Speaking of upbeat, in ...
... hopes for peace in the Mideast soar when President Bush meets with Israeli and Palestinian leaders in a landmark summit, which goes really well until gunfire erupts over the seating arrangements.
Meanwhile, a political controversy brews over a little-noticed statement in the president's January State of the Union address, in which he asserted that Iraq, under Saddam Hussein, was "located right next to Connecticut." The CIA heatedly denies responsibility for the error, noting, "We clearly said Delaware."
On the crime front, Martha Stewart is indicted on charges of securities fraud and obstruction of justice. "Also," states a federal prosecutor, "we believe that some of her casseroles contained human body parts."
North Korean troops, growing desperate for attention, announce plans to appear in a new "reality" TV show, tentatively titled "We Have Conquered Your Nation, Capitalist Scum," but it is canceled when network executives find out that nobody involved is blond.
The downward spiral continues in ...
...when -- in a catastrophe long predicted by geologists -- a massive, violent tectonic shift opens a huge fault in the earth's crust, releasing a vast mutant swarming horde of gubernatorial candidates in California. "It's terrible!" reports one rescue worker. "There's porn stars, washed-out actors, strippers, fanatics, lunatics, and somebody named Cruz Bustamante.' " Federal troops are ordered into the state, where they immediately become stuck in traffic.
Disney World, in what turns out to be a hugely successful promotion, holds the first-ever "North Korean Troops Day."
In entertainment news, CNN, concerned about flagging viewer interest in the Laci Peterson format, switches to "All Kobe, All the Time." The music industry, in what is seen as a last-ditch effort to halt the sharing of music files on the Internet, asks a federal judge to issue an injunction against "the possession or use of electricity."
Speaking of which, the big domestic story in ...
... begins on a quiet weekday morning in rural northern Ohio, where 83-year-old widow Eileen Freemonkle decides that, for a change, she will put two Pop-Tarts into her toaster, instead of her usual one. This rogue action sets off a chain of events that ultimately blacks out the entire Northeast. As rescue crews work overtime trying to keep people in the affected areas supplied with news about the developing Kobe Bryant situation, Congress swings into emergency action; within hours, Democrats and Republicans have issued literally hundreds of press releases blaming each other. Power is finally restored several days later by power-company workers, aided by bored North Korean troops.
Mars makes its closest approach to Earth in human history, prompting Arnold Schwarzenegger to declare, to Jay Leno, that he is running for governor of California.
In the arts, Madonna, demonstrating the courage, creativity and talent that have made her name synonymous with the word "Madonna," kisses Britney Spears. This results in a worldwide tidal wave of publicity, followed by the emergence, on both performers, of lip sores.
And speaking of alarming, in ...
... Palestinian and Israeli leaders finally recover the Road Map to Peace, only to discover that, while they were looking for it, the Lug Nuts of Mutual Interest came off the Front Left Wheel of Accommodation, causing the Sport Utility Vehicle of Progress to crash into the Ditch of Despair.
But the hot political news is a huge scandal that erupts in Washington after conservative columnist Robert Novak writes a column in which he reveals that the wife of a guy who was critical of the Bush administration's Iraqi policy and went to Africa on a fact-finding mission is in fact a CIA agent (the wife is, we mean), which he (Novak) allegedly was improperly told by a high-level White House source, who some people allege is Karl Rove, although he (Rove) (also Novak) heatedly denies this, and if you think this scandal is incomprehensible, you are in the vast human majority.
Meanwhile, Hurricane Isabel makes landfall on the Outer Banks of North Carolina, forcing the evacuation of 23,000 North Korean troops.
In the War On Telemarketing, a federal judge in Oklahoma blocks the implementation of the federal Do Not Call list on the grounds that it is unconstitutional. Hours later, he reverses the ruling on the grounds that his house is surrounded by people with torches.
There is another popular uprising in ...
... when the people of California, by a large majority, vote to send incumbent governor Gray Davis back to his pod. They replace him with Arnold Schwarzenegger, who wins easily despite allegations that he gropes women, which he assures the voters that he will never do in his capacity as governor "without a really good reason." In his victory statement, Schwarzenegger announces that he will appoint a stunt governor, who will handle the tasks that he is physically unable to perform, such as pronouncing words.
On the economic front, there is good news from the Commerce Department, which reports a sharp upturn in the nation's economy, credited primarily to spending by North Korean troops.
In a surprising development, conservative radio talk-show host Rush Limbaugh shocks his millions of listeners when, confirming tabloid reports, he reveals on his popular syndicated show that he is, biologically, a woman. He promises to get treatment.
In health news, authorities in Boston, Chicago and New York report a rash of suicide attempts after the Florida Marlins win their second World Series in six years. The Marlins are helped by a fluke play when a foul ball, about to be caught by Cubs outfielder Moises Alou, is deflected by a man who is later identified as a Fiesta Bowl official.
And speaking of foul, in ...
... a big political stink erupts over adding drug benefits to Medicare, with Republicans and Democrats battling fiercely to see who can pander the hardest to the crucial senior-citizen voting bloc. The Republicans prevail with the help of the AARP; this angers some AARP members, who attempt to burn their membership cards in protest, but are unable to work those newfangled childproof cigarette lighters.
Elsewhere, a group of "trade ministers" whom nobody has ever heard of gather in Miami to discuss something called the "FTAA," which nobody understands, while outside thousands of people protest for reasons that run the gamut from extremely vague to outright delusional. Most of the protestors are peaceful, although some become involved in violent clashes with North Korean troops.
In other news, pop superstar Michael Jackson again finds himself in legal trouble when authorities in Santa Barbara order him fingerprinted and booked on charges of "extreme creepiness, even for California." Jackson's attorney expresses outrage, telling a press conference that his client "doesn't even HAVE fingerprints." And the strangeness only gets stranger in ...
... which begins on an upbeat note thanks to strong holiday retail sales, as measured by the economic indicator of Mall Shoppers Injured In Fights Over Sony Playstations.
The month's biggest surprise occurs when U.S. troops finally capture a filthy and bedraggled Saddam Hussein hiding in a hole along with 11 other members of the cast of the CBS reality show "Survivor: Iraq." The former dictator immediately hires attorney Johnnie Cochran, who reveals that his defense strategy will be based on the legal argument that "if there's no WMD, you must set him free."
The other big December surprise is another daring, hush-hush-secret holiday morale-building head-of-state visit, this one by North Korean leader Kim Jong Il, who secretly travels to Washington, D.C., where he holds a reception for occupying North Korean troops.
Finally, in a heartwarming story of the season, on New Year's Eve U.S. military radar detects a mysterious object streaking across the sky. A telescopic investigation reveals that the object is what NASA describes as "a heavily modified" 1953 Ford pickup truck, driven by Cuban refugees, apparently bound for the Moon.
Here's hoping they make it. Here's also hoping that 2004 is a wonderful year, or at least better than 2003.
Which shouldn't be hard.