December 9, 2004
The year may not be over, but let’s pretend it is anyway. What can we say about 2004? It was a leap year, or 366 days, or 8784 hours, or 527040 minutes, or 31622400 seconds. Or, to put it another way, at 12:01am on January 1st, 2004, you could have curled up into a ball and started saying, "Wake me when it’s over"–which is what some of us wanted to do–and you’d be able to repeat that about 10540800 times before 12:01am on January 1st, 2005. With that in mind here are some of the noted, unnoticed, overhyped, overlooked, and undercooked events of the year that was.
January 2004: The FBI started the year off by sending instructions to police officers across the nation to look out for anyone carrying farmer’s almanacs, since so many nefarious plots involve planting carrots in strategic areas. The FBI is expected to next ask police to watch out for people carrying "books" or "magazines", since so many bad ideas are the inevitable by-product of reading.
And speaking of nefarious plots, a Russian Orthodox archbishop in Moscow assured parishioners that chess is not the work of the devil. The archbishop did add that computer games, on the other hand, generate unhealthy passions, like the obsessive need to build supercomputers like Deep Blue that can beat human chess players.
February 2004: The shortest month of the year started quietly. Then it took a sudden downturn with Janet Jackson’s wardrobe malfunction, an incident that caused shock and outrage, mostly among guys who realized they weren’t taping the Superbowl halftime show. This gratuitous reference to the year’s most unimportant news story is brought to you by the campaign to remind you that the FCC will impose record fines against television stations when they receive just ninety complaints about offensive material, but will ignore tens of thousands of letters and signatures opposing greater media consolidation.
In more important news a nearly 40-foot bridge over the river Svalyavka in western Ukraine was stolen. Metal theft is an enormous problem in Ukraine where scrap metal can be sold for high prices. What happened to the scrap metal from the bridge is a mystery. I hope it was sold to a bridge-building company to be used to build a bridge over the river Svalyavka. Of course once complete the new bridge will probably be stolen. The bright side is the Ukrainians may have found the economic equivalent of a perpetual motion system.
March 2004-The Coca-Cola company postponed plans to expand its bottled water line Dasani(tm) in European markets after it was revealed that British consumers were getting a treated version of the same water that came out of their taps. Actually the most shocking thing about this story was the amount of attention it got. Reports of dangerous levels of the chemical perchlorate in U.S. milk and lettuce were relegated to the "Wacky–but true!" section of a few newspapers. This may be because the Environmental Protection Agency has been blocked from publicly discussing the dangers of perchlorate, but there’s nothing preventing anyone from making fun of foreigners paying a 3380% price increase for water they could get by installing a filter on their taps.
April 2004-If you’re already afraid to drink the water, don’t eat the beef either. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has devised what could be the most effective way of dealing with scares associated with mad cow disease: don’t test for it. The department declined to call for widespread testing of cows and even prevented a meatpacker in Campbellsburg, Kentucky from testing all cows at its Kansas slaughterhouse. Officials explained that not testing cows will shield beef producers from the implication that U.S. cows need to be tested. If this program is successful enough, it may be applied to other areas, such as inspections of pork, lamb, fish, poultry, eggs, vegetables, and just about everything you eat. Such a program is expected to save taxpayers millions of dollars, and even more will be saved when the U.S.D.A. is eliminated completely.
May 2004-An article in GQ magazine quoted an assistant to U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell saying that Powell would, one way or another, leave his job in November. Mr. Powell denied the rumors, although he also told members of Congress that no additional funds for the Iraq war were needed right before the White House sent a request for $25 billion in additional funds–raising questions about whether Powell couldn’t resign in November because he’d already quit.
Also in May I took a shower.
June 2004-After a consultation with over 1,000 linguists it was determined that the most difficult word to translate is a word in the Tshiluba language, spoken in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The word, "ilunga", means "a person who is ready to forgive any abuse for the first time, to tolerate it a second time, but never a third time", although the real difficulty is getting into Congo and finding someone who’s willing to be abused twice to see if they’re familiar with the term. The second runner-up in the contest for the most difficult to translate word was "schlimazl", a Yiddish word meaning "chronically unlucky person". This word was difficult for linguists because they’re so darn lucky to be working in a job where their biggest worry is the length of their morpheme. The third runner-up was "Naa", a Japanese word used to emphasize a statement or agree with someone. Although difficult to translate, this word is frequently used by Japanese rappers who will make a statement about their bling bling karaoke machine or pimping out their Hyundai, then conclude it by saying, "Naa" and flashing a gang sign.
And if the year weren’t already weird enough, the European UFO watchers’ group Contact, headed by Kiril Kanew whose duties fortunately allow him to also serve as head of the Bulgarian Foundation for the Search For Cosmic Life, produced the first intergalactic currency: the "Galacto". As Kanew explained, the different currencies and trade regulations make it difficult for any extraterrestrial civilization that wants to conduct trade with Earth. The Galacto will provide them with a single currency. Getting the world markets to accept the Galacto as a valid form of currency will make the search for extraterrestrial life look ridiculously easy and productive by comparison.
And the year got even weirder…