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January 2, 2005 - Retrospectives

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Looking back on the last year?  Pointless. 


And looking forward, Leon Jaroff over at Time points out that So Far, Psychics Are Batting .000 - so we’re stuck in the here and now.




According to psychic forecasts made in December, 2003, the next year would bring the discovery of giant animal fossils on Mars, the election of Colin Powell, who would switch parties and trounce George Bush, and the development by Americans of a taste for pressed bricks of dried plankton. The Sun, the tabloid that most heralds the psychics, claimed that its predictions for 2004 were “from the world’s most brilliant psychics and seers.” Among them were twins Terry and Linda Jamison, who vowed that “Saddam Hussein will be killed by U.S. troops early in the year,” and that “Pope John Paul II will pass away in June.”


Anthony Carr, “the world’s most documented psychic,” foresaw the accidental detonation of North Korean nuclear weapons and the resulting deaths of thousands, the shooting death of Saddam Hussein, which incidentally involved a woman, and scientists successfully bringing “the first-ever male pregnancy to term.” The baby’s gender, by the way, would be male. Psychic Martha Henstridge prophesized that 2004 would be the year an anti-gravity engine was developed and patented, and that Martha Stewart would “take the fashion world by storm with a new line of prison-themed designed clothing.”


The prediction of the seer who came closest to reality was that Saddam Hussein would be captured in 2004. There was just one catch: that prophesy was published after the mid-December, 2003 apprehension of the Iraqi dictator.


Yeah, well, no point in surveying what these folks are saying for 2005 then.  If you need to know, next time you’re in line at the supermarket garb a copy of The Sun.


You editor did find some amusing stuff on the year gone by.  Like this -


The Year in Culture 

… on 2004's most notable cultural happenings.
Posted Thursday, Dec. 30, 2004, at 2:14 PM PT SLATE.COM


There are many comments from many people – and these two struck me as cool…


David Edelstein: The Passion of the Christ and Fahrenheit 9/11

Never the twain shall meet: Two movies that highlight our cultural schism, The Passion of the Christ and Fahrenheit 9/11. I suppose there might be someone, somewhere, who loves them both, but in general, neither side will ever see the other's point of view. Each film is punishing in its single-mindedness, but is, for its intended audience, a sort of turn-on. Every bloody lash and gouge out of Mel Gibson's Jesus is transfiguring: It cannot be too bloody, it cannot be too horrible. Gibson can talk disingenuously about Christian forgiveness, but the pain that his movie inflicts is meant to engender anger—at what or at whom is the question of the hour (if not the millennium). I know my characterization of it as "The Jesus Chainsaw Massacre" engendered anti-Semitic e-mails and vague death threats. (The most charitable e-mail said that one of those bloody lashes had my name on it—that Christ died for me, too.) Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11 gives no inkling of the brutality of Saddam Hussein or the very real peril of what some call "Islamofascism." Firmly grounded in a view of the United States as run by corporatist greedheads (and cowards) who hide their true motives behind bogus piety, Moore traffics in sniggering innuendo and lingers on the bloody corpses of Iraqi children. But (here is where my own biases come into play), Moore's demagogic techniques are in the service of attacking a misbegotten war waged by arrogant fools, a war that has ended up costing thousands upon thousands of lives, with no end in sight. In any case, we will continue to demonize one another and celebrate the films (and propagandists) that help sustain our convictions. You think your side is right; I know mine is. In the end it will come down, once more, to who can sway the undecided, those idiots.

This one containing "That's what journalism is, it's just all opinion…" is for Rick Brown, the News Guy in Atlanta –


Stephen Metcalf: The left and the right

To me, the biggest cultural happening of '04 was the final and official swapping of worldviews between the left and the right. The theoretical left—in the person of spokesman Terry Eagleton—discovered transcendental human values, such as friendship and justice, while the right became full-fledged relativists. The famous instance was reported by Ron Suskind, repeated here by Timothy Noah, in which a senior Bush aide told Suskind that people like Suskind were "in what we call the reality-based community," and that we, America, "an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality." Just the other night, in his farewell broadcast, Bill Moyers confronted Richard Viguerie with the distortions behind the Swift Boat ads. Viguerie, a direct mail pioneer and yet another of the creepily cheerful poo-bahs behind the conservative ascendancy, dismissed Moyers with a wholesomely wicked grin. "That's a matter of opinion, as to whether there was a basis to this story or that story ..." adding, "That's what journalism is, it's just all opinion." So there we have it; Nietzschean brio and the convenient destruction of the ethical and professional norms behind objective truth. Some of the sillier beliefs of adjunct humanities faculty now find themselves yoked to imperial power. This would be amusing, if it weren't so terrifying.


And from Rick in Georgia there was a reply…


First of all, I find it strange that people constantly link those two films into one discussion.


What they both have in common is that they are both films with controversial points-of-view, and both were independently produced and distributed outside the studio system.  And while, in my opinion, that's about where the generalizations should end, it doesn't seem to stop there.


There seems to be a commonly held opinion that the two films are located somewhere on the opposite ends of the same spectrum, somehow precluding anyone who liked the message of one from agreeing with that of the other.  As I understand it, one of them takes the religious view that Jesus not only died for our sins, he died a horrible and ugly death; and that the other makes the political argument that George Bush and everyone around him has really messed up in the area of Iraq and national security.


Granted, I haven't seen either one of these, but I don't understand why, except on the basest and most superficial level, we should be talking about them as if they're somehow two different versions of the same thing.  But whatever.


So secondly, there's this supposed left-right worldview swap, and also the "journalism" thing.


I'm not sure what Metcalf is talking about, but I would like to note that conservatives, in spite of their having made the case for all these years that liberals are all "moral relativists," were themselves always blatantly hypocritical about relativism.


While these guys would, at the drop of a hat, lead a chorus of snickers aimed at anybody who showed the slightest hesitation when it came to acknowledging an unmistakable "difference between right and wrong," this same crowd has argued that there is no such thing as real "objectivity" in news reporting, and that, while liberals (and everyone else, for that matter) may have their version of the truth, conservative Americans - which is to say, "mainstream Americans" - have Fox News Channel! And who amongst us can prove that "Conservative Truth" is any less true than anyone else's?


But as for "That's what journalism is, it's just all opinion," what we have here is a disinterested dude - a "direct-mailer" who apparently knows even less about "journalism" than I know about "direct mailing" - who obviously hasn't given his topic enough thought.


To reprise what I myself have said here before, some of journalism is fact-driven reportage ("reporters" and "correspondents"), while some of it is opinion ("columnists" and "commentators").  Folks who wish to comment on this subject would be well advised to first learn the difference between the two; and those who can't discern the difference aren't smart enough to comment and would be well advised to keep their stupidity to themselves.


Along those same lines, this guy's comments remind me of those of the embezzler who, when arrested and confronted with his wrongdoing, was heard to say, "Oh, come on! Everybody does what I did! My only problem is that I got caught!"  Of course, not everyone is an embezzler, and he would have realized that were he not so stupid from the get-go.


(And while we're at it, do you know the difference between right and wrong? And if so, tell me this: What is it?)


Conservatives!  Sheesh! I still swear that God just created them to keep the thinking people on their toes!


God just created them to keep the thinking people on their toes?


Jeff Popovich here has a comment -


In the latest issue of New York Review of Books, this analysis of the election.  Here's the key quote:


But the facts did not matter-not necessarily because those in the stadium were ignorant of them, though some certainly were, but because the President was offering in their place a worldview that was whole, complete, comprehensible, and thus impermeable to statements of fact that clearly contradicted it.  The thousands cheering around me in that Orlando stadium, and the many others who would come to support Bush on election day, faced a stark choice: either discard the facts, or give up the clear and comforting worldview that they contradicted.  They chose to disregard the facts.


That was what the whole year was like.


Molly Ivins, the Texas liberal from Austin, the only liberal Texas town, on the year gone by  


Abu Ghraib, the endless trials of Kobe Bryant and Scott Peterson, war in Iraq looking worse every day, Howard Dean eliminated over a whoop and a presidential race so devoid of joy that the high point was when the president claimed God speaks through him - leaving us to contemplate the news that God doesn't know how to pronounce nuclear and has yet to master subject-verb agreement.  "Performance enhancing drugs" in baseball.  Ray Charles died.  Karl Rove is Man of the Year.  We're all overweight.  Swift Boat Liars win the presidential race for Bush.  Then just to round things off nicely, a terrible natural disaster.  What a bummer.


But, look at it this way... the Boston Red Sox won the championship.  Eliot Spitzer is scaring the spit out of the insurance industry (check out those year-end bonuses on Wall Street!).  The Greek Olympics went well.  Maybe we could end the payola by just having them in Greece every time.  Lance Armstrong won a record sixth Tour de France, a symbolic victory for cancer patients everywhere.


Jon Stewart survived a storm of approval and came out just as sardonic as ever.  Richard Clarke showed us all that public servant, class act and bureaucrat can be the same thing.


Other selected nuggets –


The Coalition of the Willing was depleted when Hungary, Thailand, Nicaragua, New Zealand, Honduras, Ukraine, Spain, the Philippines, the Netherlands, the Czech Republic and Poland (so movingly cited by President Bush during one of the debates) all proved less than willing.  On the other hand, Tonga is still with us.


Texan Jessica Simpson, the one who makes Paris Hilton look like a genius, showed an astonished nation what a Texas intellectual looks like.  Upon being introduced to Interior Secretary Gale Norton, she said, "You've done a nice job decorating the White House."


Yep – it was some year.  And there’s Arianna Huffington listing things she’s like to forget from this year past.  A selection?


That the woman who dismissed a presidential briefing entitled "Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S." as a "historical" document is going to be our next secretary of state.


That a man who finds the Geneva Conventions "quaint" is going to be our next attorney general.


That the media thought "Don't be economic girlie men" was a great line.


That picture of Lynndie England holding the leash.


The way the administration tried to sweep Abu Ghraib under the rug.


William Hung, recording artist.


That a 10-year-old grilled cheese sandwich allegedly bearing the likeness of the Virgin Mary sold for $28,000 on eBay.


The 10,000 Web remixes incorporating The Dean Scream.


The looks on George and Laura Bush's faces when Dr. Phil asked them about the "epidemic levels of oral sex" in America's middle schools.


That the Kyoto Protocol was ratified - and we aren't part of it.


That 35.9 million Americans live below the poverty line -- 12.9 million of them children.


That 42 percent of Americans still think Saddam Hussein was "directly involved in planning, financing or carrying out" the 9/11 attacks.


That, thanks to presidential cutbacks, we actually have fewer police and first responders on the streets today than we had on 9/11.


That Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld couldn't find time to personally sign letters of condolence to the families of troops killed in Iraq.


That Deputy Defense Secretary Wolfowitz couldn't remember the number of soldiers who'd lost their lives in Iraq.


Ah well… it’s over. 


But oddly enough the New Year, as always, is a continuation of the old year.  The calendar we use is an artificial construct, a sort of grid we put over a continuous process.  One wishes it were not so, but naming something as new doesn’t make it so.  None of this is over at all.


Copyright 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 - Alan M. Pavlik
The inclusion of any text from others is quotation
for the purpose of illustration and commentary,
as permitted by the fair use doctrine of U.S. copyright law. 
See the Details page for the relevant citation.

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