Reflecting on 2004, we have to conclude that it could have been worse.
"HOW??" you ask, spitting out your coffee.
Well, OK, a giant asteroid could have smashed into the earth and destroyed all human life except Paris Hilton and William Hung. Or Florida could have been hit by 20 hurricanes, instead of just 17.
Or the Yankees could have won the World Series.
But no question, 2004 was bad. Consider:
- We somehow managed to hold a presidential election campaign that for several months was devoted almost entirely to the burning issue of: Vietnam.
- Our Iraq policy, despite being discussed, debated and agreed upon right up to the very highest levels of the White House, did not always seem to be wildly popular over there in Iraq.
- Perhaps most alarming of all, Cher yet again extended her "farewell" tour, which began during the Jimmy Carter administration and is now expected to continue until the sun goes out.
So all things considered, we're happy to be entering a new year, which, according to our calculations, will be 2005 (although the exit polls are predicting it will be 1997). But before we move on, let's take one last look back at 2004, which began, as so many years seem to, with ...
... a month that opens with all the magic, excitement and glamour conjured up by the words "Iowa caucuses." All the political experts -- having gauged the mood of the state by dining with each other at essentially three Des Moines restaurants -- agree that the Democratic nomination has already been locked up by feisty yet irritable genius Vermont governor Howard Dean, thanks to his two unbeatable weapons: (1) the Internet, and (2) college students wearing orange hats.
But it turns out that the Iowa voters are out of the loop regarding the Dean strategic brilliance. Instead they vote for John "I Served In Vietnam" Kerry, who served in Vietnam and also has many policies, although nobody, including him, seems to know for sure exactly what they are. Dean, reacting to his Iowa loss, gives an emotional concession speech that ends with him making a sound like a hog being castrated with a fondue fork.
Meanwhile, the Bush administration, increasingly disturbed by the bad news from Iraq, cancels the White House's lone remaining newspaper subscription (Baseball Digest).
In lifestyle news, the hot trend is "metrosexuals" -- young males who are not gay, but are seriously into grooming and dressing well. There are only eight documented cases of males like this, all living in two Manhattan blocks, but they are featured in an estimated 17,000 newspaper and magazine articles over the course of about a week.
In sports, Pete Rose publishes a book in which he at last confesses to an allegation that dogged him throughout his baseball career: He's a jerk.
Speaking of shocking revelations, in ...
... the nation is traumatized by something that leaves a deep and lasting scar on the fragile national psyche: Janet Jackson's right nipple, which is revealed for a full three ten-thousandths of a second during the Super Bowl halftime show. This event is so traumatic that the two teams are unable to complete the game, with many players simply lying on the field in the fetal position, whimpering.
Elsewhere in politics, feisty Internet genius Howard Dean drops out of the Democratic race after losing 17 consecutive primaries, despite leading in every single exit poll.
In entertainment news, the feel-good hit of the winter is Mel Gibson's wacky film romp "The Passion of the Christ," although critics of product placement object to the scene where Pontius Pilate can be seen holding a Diet Sprite.
On the cultural front, the mayor of San Francisco attempts to legalize same-sex marriage, which outrages those who believe that marriage is a sacred institution that should be entered into only by heterosexual people, such as Britney Spears and Mike Tyson.
Speaking of fighters, in ...
... John Kerry sews up the Democratic nomination with primary victories in California, Florida, Illinois, Canada, France, Germany and Sweden. Kerry's closest rival, John Edwards, drops out of the race, but Dennis Kucinich stays in, saying that he intends to keep his idealistic grassroots campaign going until either all U.S. troops leave Iraq, or Dennis finds a girlfriend.
In other political news, Russian president Vladimir Putin easily wins re-election, despite exit polls indicating the winner was Howard Dean.
There is finally some positive news from Iraq, where negotiators reach agreement on an interim constitution, which guarantees that, for the first time ever, Iraq will be governed by a duly elected council of nervous men in armored cars going 80 mph.
On the legal front, a federal jury convicts Martha Stewart on four counts of needing to be taken down a peg. In what many legal experts call an unduly harsh punishment, a federal judge sentences Stewart to be the topic of 17 consecutive weeks of Jay Leno jokes.
Speaking of punishments, in ...
... the Federal Communications Commission levies a $495,000 fine against Clear Channel Communications for a 2003 incident in which Howard Stern, on his nationally-broadcast radio show, exposed his right nipple.
Meanwhile, in another blow to the U.S.-led coalition effort in Iraq, Spain withdraws its troop, Sgt. Juan Hernandez. As violence in Iraq escalates, critics of the Bush administration charge that there are not enough U.S. soldiers over there. Administration officials heatedly deny this, arguing that the real problem is that there are too many Iraqis over there.
In economic news, the price of a gallon of gasoline at the pump reaches $236.97, prompting widespread concern that there is something wrong with this particular pump. Congress vows to hold hearings.
Speaking of things gone wrong ...
... world outrage grew in reaction to photos taken inside Iraq's notorious Abu Ghraib prison, showing U.S. soldiers repeatedly forcing prisoners to look at the video of Janet Jackson's right nipple. As human-rights organizations voice outrage, President Bush vows to "punish whoever is responsible for this, no matter who it is, unless of course it is Donald Rumsfeld." Congress vows to hear holdings.
John Kerry, looking to improve his image with Red State voters, shoots a duck.
In sports, popular spunky horse "Smarty Jones" wins the Kentucky Derby, confounding exit pollsters who had unanimously picked Seabiscuit. Congress vows to call its bookie.
The big entertainment news in May is the much-anticipated final episode of "Friends," in which Joey, Chandler, Ross, Rachel, Monica and Phoebe suddenly realize that that they are, like, 53 years old.
Speaking of final episodes, in ...
... former President Ronald Reagan dies and embarks on a weeklong national tour. Also hitting the road for the last time is Ray Charles.
The news from Iraq continues to worsen as the interim governing council, in a move that alarms the Bush administration, chooses, by unanimous vote, its new acting president: Al Gore. He immediately demands a recount.
President Bush meets with the pope and, in impromptu remarks afterward, describes him as "a great American." John Kerry, campaigning in Michigan, strangles a deer.
On the economic front, there is good news and bad news. The good news is, the U.S. economy"" has generated 250,000 new jobs. The bad news is that 80 percent of these openings are for cable TV legal experts needed to speculate endlessly about Scott Peterson.
Speaking of job seekers, in ...
... John Kerry is formally nominated at the Democratic convention in Boston and, in his acceptance speech, tells the wildly cheering delegates that, if he is elected president, his highest priority will be "to develop facial expressions."
In Washington, President Bush, reacting to news of a projected sharp increase in the federal budget deficit, vows to find out if this is a good thing or a bad thing, or what.
On the terrorism front, the federal commission charged with investigating the Sept. 11 attacks, having spent more than a year questioning hundreds of witnesses and reviewing thousands of pages of classified documents, concludes that the attacks were "very bad" and "better not happen again." Congress vows to hold hearings.
Meanwhile, in another blow to the U.S.-led effort in Iraq, Uruguay announces that it intends to pull its troops out of the coalition. Informed that it has no troops in the coalition, Uruguay asks if it can borrow some.
In sports, Lance Armstrong wins his sixth consecutive Tour de France, overcoming the hardship of having to pedal hundreds of kilometers with hostile French persons clinging to his legs.
Speaking of sporting triumphs, in ...
... Greece hosts a highly successful Olympics, with the USA winning all the gold medals, at least the ones shown on TV. Fears of terrorist attacks prove unjustified, most likely because the terrorists, like everybody else, are watching women's beach volleyball. The only major controversy involves the men's gymnastics gold medal, which is won by American Paul Hamm, despite exit polls showing it should have gone to a South Korean.
On the political front, the Republicans gather for their national convention in New York City, which welcomes them with open armpits. But the hot political story is the allegation by a group of Swift Boat veterans that John Kerry exaggerated his Vietnam accomplishments, and that in fact his boat was, quote, "not particularly swift."
In weather news, an unprecedented series of hurricanes -- Arnie, Barb, Chuck, Deb, Ernie, Francine, Gus and Harlotta -- all head directly for Florida, causing millions of Sunshine State residents, by longstanding tradition, to throng to home-supply stores in an effort to purchase the two available pieces of plywood. Damage is extensive, although experts say it would have been much worse if not for a dense protective barrier of TV news people.
In other bad news, the Department of Homeland Fear, acting on credible information, raises the National Terror Index Level to "EEEEEEEE," which is a level so high that only dogs can detect it.
Speaking of alarming, in ...
... Florida's weather woes worsen as the Sunshine State is battered on consecutive days by hurricanes Irving, Jonetta, Karl, Louanne, Myron, Naomi, Orville, Peg and Quentin. When it is finally all over, many Florida residents are completely hairless, and shards of Walt Disney World are coming down as far away as Montana. The federal government, reacting quickly, sends a third sheet of plywood to Florida, and promises that a fourth will be on the way "soon."
With more bad news coming from Iraq, and Americans citing terrorism and health care as their major concerns, the news media continue their laser-beam focus on the early 1970s. Dan Rather leads the charge with a report on CBS's "60 Minutes" citing a memo, allegedly written in 1972, suggesting that Bush shirked his National Guard duty. Critics charge that the memo is a fake, pointing out that at one point it specifically mentions the 2003 Outkast hit "Hey Ya." Rather refuses to back down, arguing that the reference could be to "an early version of the song."
On the legal front, a judge drops rape charges against Kobe Bryant on the grounds that "the Scott Peterson trial is hogging all the cable-TV celebrity legal analysts."
In medical news, former president Bill Clinton experiences chest pains and is rushed to New York-Presbyterian Hospital, where, in a five-hour operation, surgeons successfully remove a glazed doughnut the size of a catcher's mitt.
Speaking of the National Pastime, in ...
... the Boston Red Sox, ending an 86-year drought, defeat the St. Louis Cardinals to win the World Series, defying exit polls that had overwhelmingly picked the Green Bay Packers.
On the health front, the big story is a nationwide shortage of flu vaccine, caused by the fact that apparently all the flu vaccine in the world is manufactured by some guy in Wales or someplace with a Bunsen burner. Congress, acting with unusual swiftness, calls on young, healthy Americans to forego getting flu shots this year so that more vaccine will be available for members of Congress.
President Bush notes that additional vaccine "could be hidden somewhere in Iraq."
John Kerry, campaigning in North Carolina, kills a raccoon with a hatchet.
Abroad, Yasser Arafat collapses and is taken to a hospital, where his condition rapidly worsens and continues to worsen until nobody thinks it can get any worse, but somehow it does.
In other international news, Afghanistan's historic first democratic elections go off without a hitch, except for an unexplained 27,500 votes from residents of Palm Beach County, Fla.
Speaking of elections, in ...
... the 2004 U.S. presidential election campaign, which has been going on since the early stages of the Cher Farewell Tour, finally staggers to the finish line. John Kerry easily sweeps to a 53-state landslide victory in the exit polls and has pretty much picked out his new Cabinet when word begins to leak out that the actual, physical voters have elected George W. Bush. Democrats struggle to understand how this could have happened, and, after undergoing a harsh and unsparing self-examination, conclude that red-state residents are morons.
The post-election recriminations and name-calling continue for more than a week, until finally the public, realizing that there are still important issues that affect the entire nation, returns its attention to the Scott Peterson trial, which finally ends with the jury finding Peterson guilty of being just unbelievably irritating.
Meanwhile, there are big changes in the Bush Cabinet, the most notable involving Secretary of State Colin Powell, who announces his resignation after returning from a trip to find all his office furniture replaced by Condoleezza Rice's.
Dan Rather also resigns, on orders received via the secret radio in his teeth.
Abroad, the big news is the presidential election in the Ukraine, where the government, citing exit polls, declares that Viktor Yanukovych has defeated Viktor Yushchenko. Hundreds of thousands of outraged Ukrainians take to the streets, protesting the fact that they cannot remember which Viktor is which. Many threaten to move to Canada.
Meanwhile, the condition of Yasser Arafat, already worse than anybody believed possible, somehow worsens still more, until it becomes so bad that Arafat no longer responds to a medical procedure known technically as the Hatpin Test, at which point he is declared legally deceased. After a funeral service attended by a large and extremely enthusiastic crowd, he is buried in several locations.
In sports, a Pacers-Pistons NBA game in Detroit turns into a riot after Pacers star and rocket scientist Ron Artest, hit by a cup thrown by Fan A, retaliates by charging into the stands and attacking Fans B, C and D. Explaining his actions later on the "Today" show, Artest says he thought he "saw weapons of mass destruction."
Speaking of sportsmanship, in ...
... the pro-baseball world is stunned by the unbelievably shocking and astounding and totally unexpected news that some players may have taken steroids. "Gosh," exclaims baseball commissioner Bud "Bud" Selig, "this could explain why so many players suddenly develop 200 additional pounds of pure muscle and, in some cases, a tail." Seeking to restore fan confidence in the sport, the players' union and the team owners, in a rare display of cooperation, agree that it will be necessary to raise ticket prices.
On the military front, the president, in a move that sparks international outrage, announces that he is sending Ron Artest to Iraq.
In the Ukraine, weeks of massive street protests finally lead to a ruling by the Ukrainian supreme court that there must be a new election between the two Viktors, only this time, "they have to wear name tags."
Meanwhile, Yasser Arafat continues to worsen.
And he is not alone. As we look back on the events of 2004, we sometimes get the feeling that the whole world is worsening. It would be easy to become depressed about the future, and yet ...
... and yet we are not. As we approach the end of the year, we find ourselves feeling hope, optimism and a warm glow of happiness. Why? Because we've been hitting the eggnog. We recommend you do the same. But whatever you do, have a happy new year.
Dave Barry is a humor columnist for the Miami Herald.