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Gone but not forgotten

The casualties of the Iraq war and its aftermath, the crew of space shuttle Columbia, the victims of the Iran earthquake, Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynahan, Sen. Strom Thurmond, Sen. Paul Simon, Johnny Cash, June Carter Cash, Katharine Hepburn, Gregory Peck, Mr. Rogers, Bob Hope, Elia Kazan, Edward Teller, David Brinkley, Donald Regan, Sir Denis Thatcher, Lester Maddox, Edward Said, Warren Zevon, Barry White, Sam Phillips, Nina Simone, Herbie Mann, Elliott Smith, Benny Carter, Edwin Starr, Maurice Gibb, George Plimpton, Leon Uris, Alan Bates, Buddy Ebsen, Art Carney, Charles Bronson, Robert Stack, John Ritter, Gregory Hines, Buddy Hackett, Herb Brooks.

Also, actors Richard Cusack, Karen Morley, Graham P. Jarvis, Nell Carter, Anita Hui, Earl Hindman, Dame Wendy Hiller, Nedra Volz, Trevor Goddard, David Hemmings, Marie Trintignant, Jeanne Crain, Lynne Thigpen, Gene Anthony Ray, Jonathan Brandis, Gordon Jump, Jack Elam, Penny Singleton and Donald O’Connor.

Director John Schlesinger; cinematographers Conrad L. Hall; film composers Michael Kamen and Albert Sendrey.

Writers Carol Shields, Amanda Davis, William Steig, Alan Dugan, John P. Saunders, Robert McCloskey, Herb Gardner and Cecille de Burnhoff.

Journalists Michael Kelly, David Bloom, Elizabeth Neuffer, John Regan “Tex” McCrary.

Musicians Robert Palmer, Tony Thompson, Erik Braunn, Howie Epstein, Baba Olatunji, Noel Redding, Ruben Gonzalez, Felice Bryant, Hank Ballard, Celia Cruz, Wesley Willis, Arthur Conley, Sheb Wooley, Compay Segundo, Don Gibson, Frank Corelli, Bobby Hatfield, and Adam Cox, Jeremy Gage and Matthew Fitgerald of Exploding Hearts.

Athletes Warren Spahn, Dave DeBusschere, Althea Gibson, Steve Bechler, Dan Snyder,

Peace activist Rachel Corrie, Atkins diet inventor Robert Atkins, former Dallas Cowboys president Tex Schramm, Sierra Leone rebel leader Foday Sankoh, Hitler documentarian Leni Riefenstahl, and Arthur Chaires, Schenectady’s first black cop.

Albany Democrat and labor leader Harold Joyce, civil-rights attorney Arthur Kinoy, Hamburger billionaire Joan B. Kroc, Racecar driver Tony Renna, and Maynard Jackson, Atlanta’s first black mayor.

Congresswoman and anti-busing activist Louise Day Hicks, billionaire Lawrence Tisch, Silicon Valley pioneer Eugene Kleiner, and Gertrude Ederle, the first woman to swim the English Channel.

Keiko the whale, Dick the goldfish.

Gone and forgotten

Tatu; emergency preparedness kits; the rationale of searching for nonexistent WMDs; Justin Guarini; “mission accomplished”; Osama bin Laden; Kim Jong-il

Gone and back again

Kelly Osborne’s singing career; SARS; Mad Cow Disease; Michael Jackson’s molestation charges; Code Orange;; the Tyler Arms veterans’ home; Col. Quaddafi; Jim Coyne; Palestine; The Stooges

Gone and back and gone again

Trucker hats; Stephen Glass; the Gitmo detainees; drilling in ANWR

Gone and back and gone and back and, ad nauseum.


Just recently gone

Ephedra; Saddam Hussein

Gone black and backtracked

Sen. Strom Thurmond

Gone and back smaller

Lark Street trees

Gone back to the costumer

Bush’s flight suit

Gone to an undisclosed location then back then gone to an undisclosed location then back . . .

Vice President Dick Cheney

Long gone but pardoned

Lenny Bruce

Not really gone

The Taliban’s oppression of women

Gone and back with a nominal fee


Please make them go away

Parking meters; Clay Aiken and Ruben Studdard; Ahston and Demi; “metrosexuality”; Friends; RIAA; the new Palestinian/Israeli wall

Like a runaway train

The United Nations was against it. Europe was against it. Public opinion worldwide was overwhelmingly against it. The pope was against it. Inspectors found no WMDs; links from Saddam Hussein to Al Qaeda and 9/11 never materialized; U.S. and British government lies about Iraq’s alleged attempt to buy uranium from Niger were exposed. As war loomed, multitudes of passionate protesters choked the streets of major U.S. cities to voice a level of dissent not seen in years, perhaps decades. But it was to no avail: Plans for the invasion of Iraq—even for its reconstruction afterward—were in the works long before the fighting began, perhaps even before Bush took office. Nothing was going to stop this war from happening.

A Byrd in the wilderness

One by one, Democratic U.S. senators caved in to anti-Saddam hysteria and administration pressure and lined up in support of the invasion. Not West Virginia’s Robert Byrd, who stood on the Senate floor day after day and offered impassioned calls to reason that should have given other Democrats, at least, a moment’s pause—and should have gotten more play in the media. “To turn one’s frustration and anger into the kind of extremely destabilizing and dangerous foreign policy debacle that the world is currently witnessing,” Byrd cautioned, “is inexcusable from any administration charged with the awesome power and responsibility of guiding the destiny of the greatest superpower on the planet. Frankly, many of the pronouncements made by this administration are outrageous. There is no other word.”

Is the pope pacifist?

Pronouncements from the leader of the world’s largest organized religion often are treated as major media stories—especially when they involve juicy topics like sex and birth control. And papal visits to the United States always make the 6 o’clock news. But the pope’s scathing denouncements of Bush’s impending invasion of Iraq were virtually blacked out in the U.S. media. If Bush chose to go ahead with this unjustified war, the pope said, he would have to answer to god—but not, apparently, to millions of Catholics who never heard the pope’s message.

A mighty wind

“You’re thinking of Europe as Germany and France. I don’t. I think that’s old Europe.” With that one not-so-diplomatic statement, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld created a firestorm of controversy. (“Cool down,” German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer replied.) Rumsfeld’s comments were indicative of the Bush administration attitude toward bringing our biggest continental allies into the coalition against Iraq, however: “Do what we tell you.” The result? France, Germany and Russia sat out the war, while Bush and his “poodle” (U.K. Prime Minister Tony Blair) went ahead with the full support of Italy, Poland and Spain.

Coming next: pursuit-of- happiness maid outfits

Washington’s absurd capacity for pettiness in the face of criticism reached its embarrassing climax in March when the Congressional cafeteria pulled the international equivalent of “Yeah, well, your mama’s fat!” and renamed french fries “freedom fries.” A café in California purportedly responded by naming its own deep-fried Belgian-style taters “fuck George Bush fries.” Would you like an oil pipeline with that?

That’s one pissed off focus group

Antiwar protests swept the country—and the world—so often this year, it seemed like there was one every time we turned around. The amount of people who showed up to demonstrate against the looming war in Iraq was staggering. People all over the world—literally, from Thailand to Brazil to Switzerland, and everywhere in between—came out to protest Bush’s complete ignorance of international laws and dismissal of the United Nations in order to attack Iraq. However, the media consistently underplayed the number of people that came out to be counted, and our president called the throngs of people “focus groups.”

Following Private Ryan

The U.S. Department of Defense decided to allow journalists to tag along with troops and platoons during our invasion of Iraq, and news audiences were introduced to the idea of embedded journalism. While some questioned what effect these circumstances would have on the journalists—how critical is a reporter going to be about the men and women in whose hands his life rests?—there is no doubt such access produced some of the most intimate and awe-inspiring images of war known to man.

We sure blowed them up good, didn’t we?

Desperate for some good news, the U.S. military made a bid deal out of killing Saddam’s kids. Yep, we got Odai and Qusai—blew the spoiled little shits to bits. Turned them into Swiss cheese, really. Then we paraded their carcasses around on Arab television to prove that we did it. It affirmed some things about the U.S. of A. in the Muslim world: One, that we killed Saddam’s kids. And two, that we can be just as brutal as they were.

It’s not a doll! It’s an ACTION FIGURE!

Dressed to kill in full flight gear, this 12-inch tall doll is an homage Bush’s landing on the USS Abraham Lincoln on May 1 to announce the end of major combat operations in Iraq. (Ha!) The Elite Force Aviator: George W. Bush doll was sold exclusively through KB Toys for a mere $39.99. The limited edition appeared to be sold out before Christmas.

Blogged down in Baghdad

Blogging, the oh-so-charming term for posting one’s thoughts, opinions, and daily banalities online, became big news this year, earning serious coverage from the likes of the Gray Lady herself. But among the dreck, some compelling and news-breaking blogs rose to the surface. Most famous perhaps was the blog of Salam Pax, a young and sardonic Baghdad resident who chronicled the build up to and aftermath of the U.S. invasion to a breathless audience. He now has a book, and the movie can’t be far away, but meanwhile the blog keeps going.

But it’s so unpleasant to talk about death

Bush’s Thanksgiving photo-op with troops at the Baghdad airport hardly atoned for his failure to attend funerals of soldiers killed in Iraq—or even to acknowledge the body count, now at 478, four times the number of U.S. personnel killed during the “official” war, rising daily, with no end in sight. Clearly, then, it would be too much to ask of Bush to acknowledge the awful toll of Iraqi civilian deaths, estimated to be well over 3,000 during the war alone.

What is this, Crawford Gulch?

The immortal words of Civil Administrator L. Paul Bremer—“We got him”—uttered when American forces captured Saddam Hussein, were added to the annals of history along with the administration’s other gunslinger phrases like “Let’s roll,” “Dead or alive” and “Bring ’em on!” It’s enough to make one long for the days of “This aggression will not stand.” It didn’t make the American armed forces look any better when video was released of a medic inspecting Hussein as though he were a chimp; the pope didn’t like it one bit. And by the way Mr. Rumsfeld, where is Osama?

Everything’s all sexed up

A massive row between Tony Blair’s government and the BBC over reports that officials had pressed for the “sexing up” of a dossier on Saddam’s weapons capability had tragic results. David Kelly, a Defence Department scientist and former weapons inspector in Iraq, took his life after Blair’s government named him as the BBC’s anonymous source. An extensive inquiry involving 74 witnesses has just wrapped up. The report due at the end of January is expected by many to be one of the final nails in the coffin of Blair’s reputation.

Well, we know he has a weapons program, where’s the fun in that?

With the Bush administration’s attention focused soundly on one-third of the axis of evil, Kim Jong-il of North Korea was feeling neglected. So in January North Korea became the first country to (officially) pull out of the nuclear nonproliferation treaty, and Kim announced he had intercontinental missiles and was itching to use them. But Kim hadn’t tried to kill the elder Bush 10 years ago (at least not that we know of), and so his high-stakes game of chicken was met with diplomacy, leading to multilateral, though inconclusive, talks in August.

What’s a little yellowcake under the table?

The verdict is finally in: it really is sex that gets you impeached, not lying. Despite some fairly loud calls for it, Dubya managed to avoid impeachment even after it was revealed that one of his only concrete pieces of proof that Iraq was developing nuclear weapons—documented uranium yellowcake purchases from Niger—was not only a complete fabrication, but the CIA and State Department had told him so for months before he put it into his State of the Union address.

Kill the messenger

When President Bush uttered those 16 words about Iraq uranium from Niger in his State of the Union speech, former ambassador Joseph Wilson was a little bit surprised. See, he investigated that charge for the State department, and found it had no basis in fact. Wilson went public with this information. Shortly thereafter, conservative columnist Robert Novak on a tip from “senior administration officials” revealed that Wilson’s wife was a CIA operative. This not only ended her CIA career, it may have been a violation of law. Wilson claimed the intent was to have a “chilling effect” on other potential whistleblowers. Bush said they would find and “punish the leakers.” Maybe . . .

Cheney’s right hand talks to the left

Vice President Cheney claims he has nothing to do with Halliburton, the company he was CEO of until 2000. Funny then, that before the war began, Kellogg, Brown & Root, a Halliburton subsidiary, nabbed a two-year, $2.3 billion contract to clean up Iraq’s oil fields, not to mention $300 million in contracts for rebuilding Afghanistan, including the construction of a new U.S. embassy in Kabul. The kicker: Cheney is still on the dole from Halliburton, earning a “deferred salary.” But he’s got insurance that says he gets paid even if they go under—which he says frees him of any conflict of interest. Tell us another.

We still haven’t gotten him

Oh yeah, that bin Laden cat. Well, sure he’s still out there, roaming the nether regions between Pakistan and Afghanistan, making video proclamations and firing up Muslim radicals. But we did get Saddam and all of his weapons of mass destruct—oh wait. Well, our at-home security tips, like stockpiling duct tape and plastic sheeting, to safeguard from future terrorist attacks certainly made the country . . . well, a laughingstock really. And it’s not like we can just pressure the Pakistani government to crack down on the tribal lawlessness in the border region that allows bin Laden to remain free or anything.

Separate and unequal?

Jessica Lynch and Shoshana Johnson both served in Iraq as part of the 507th Maintenance Company. Both were taken prisoner. (Johnson could be seen, traumatized, with other captured soldiers in a controversial Iraqi TV news report.) Lynch suffered a head injury and broken bones in her right arm and leg, thighs and ankle. Johnson was shot through both ankles. The Army determined that Lynch has a “temporary” disability, while Johnson’s is “permanent.” Lynch will receive 80 percent of her monthly salary as disability pay, while Johnson will receive 30 percent. Lynch’s story was hyped by the Pentagon and turned into a TV movie. Johnson’s was not. Lynch is white. Johnson is African-American.

Won’t leave a guy alone, unless they’re leaving him alone

Prior to the United States’ engagement in Iraq, former U.N. weapons inspector Scott Ritter was seemingly everywhere—radio, TV, the lecture circuit—decrying the Bush administration’s agenda. Ritter warned that there would be no weapons of mass destruction found and that U.S. involvement would inevitably bog down and lead to needless loss of life. For his prescience, the ex-Marine intelligence officer was the subject of an operation that stunk of smear: It was reported that in June 2001 Ritter had been busted for soliciting sex online from an underage girl. What was less well-covered was that the case was adjourned on contemplation of dismissal, the records sealed, and the prosecuting D.A. fired for mishandling the case. Nevertheless, Ritter was suddenly persona non grata on the American airwaves—which seem to prefer the right to right.

Dastardly tricks

Does the Domestic Security Enhancement Act of 2003 ring any bells? That’s PATRIOT Act 2. Yes, in January, as the mechanisms for war in Iraq really picked up, the Justice Department floated an effort to even further expand the power of the government for domestic surveillance and intelligence gathering while decreasing oversight and public access to information. The provisions of this act were so egregious that even the new right, from William Safire to Bill O’Reilly, decried it, and thankfully the Justice Department appears to have back burnered the proposal.

What’s a genocide compared to a ficitional anthrax lab?

While U.S. troops continued to try to stabilize a conquered Iraq and track down nonexistent WMDs, horrific interethnic violence raged in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Despite numerous pleas for help, the United States didn’t send troops. France did. Maybe they’ll cut us out of the diamond contracts.

Ready to be scared out of your wits?

In case you were too dense to take anything away from those color-coded threat advisories, the Department of Homeland Security unveiled earlier this year—a keen new Web site spelling out, with little pictographs even, how to prepare for a terrorist attack. This was the site that recommended creating an airtight pod in your home with duct tape and plastic sheeting to stave off poison gasses. The media had a field day, the hardware stores cleaned up and we were all made safe from all of those biological weapons we can’t quite seem to find in Iraq.

WMD found!! (In Texas)

No, it’s not a joke about oil rigs or the noxious shrub. In April, anti-government white-supremacist William Krar was discovered to have in his possession (unlike, say, Jose Padilla) a sodium-cyanide bomb capable of killing thousands, more than a hundred explosives, half a million rounds of ammunition, and dozens of illegal weapons. It was considered the most lethal arsenal uncovered in the past 20 years. But Krar’s capture wasn’t trumpeted, or even mentioned, by the feds or the national media. It might have confused our idea of who the bad guys are.

There are terrible diseases

Despite the absence of a single recorded smallpox case in more than 20 years, President Bush called for some 10 million U.S. healthcare workers to take the potentially deadly smallpox vaccine earlier this year, in case of terrorist attack. Only 39,000 took him up on the deal to get a vaccine that kills or causes serious-to- life-threatening diseases in 1,000 of every 1,000,000 vaccinated. Most of them are more worried about their kids getting the flu, catching SARS by traveling, or buying hamburgers for fear of Mad Cow disease.

No really, you’ve gotta pick one of them

Confirming that the membership of Internet activist powerhouse is in fact representative of progressives and their dilemmas, no Democratic candidate got a majority of the vote—and therefore MoveOn’s endorsement—in June’s widely reported first-ever online primary. Top vote-getter Dean (44%) claimed victory anyway, while second-place Kucinich (24%) declared himself the winner in terms of “exceeding expectations.” More people voted than in the 2000 Iowa and New Hampshire caucuses combined.

Golly, Vermont. Who knew?

The surprise of the political year was the rapid rise of “People Powered Howard” Dean in the crowded competition for the Democratic presidential nomination. A balanced-budget libertarian doctor opposed to the war in Iraq who managed to raise so much money from small donations that he backed down on a promise to stay publicly financed, Dean became a “phenomenon” in short order. The front-runner designation was sealed by a media frenzy and a Gore endorsement, but polls across much of the country show that things are still far more up in the air than we’re led to believe.

We’ll always have Nashville

Former presidential candidate Al Gore surprised many by endorsing Howard Dean for the Democratic presidential nomination, rather than his own former running mate, Sen. Joe Lieberman. Friends of the former couple, who asked to remain nameless, expressed sympathy for the senator—whom they described as “crestfallen”—but little surprise. “When it comes right down to it,” said one, “Joe’s a bit of a stick in the mud. Always going on about the degeneracy of urban music and whatnot, you know? They weren’t cut out for one another. But Joe’s a survivor, he’ll be all right. And, just between you and me, I know another Reaganite Democrat who’s always admired Joe’s ethics and might just want to form a new political-action committee . . .”

So this is why Gore endorsed him

Former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean raced to the head of the pack of presidential hopefuls this fall thanks in large part to a pervasive Internet presence. Taking advantage of the hugely successful Wed site—where vegans, dog lovers and Harry Potter fans can meet people just like them—Dean’s campaign signed up, spread the word and the folks have flocked. Dean’s is the most popular link on the site, with 163,000 registered users.

Target: Dean

Joe Lieberman, John Kerry, and Dick Gephardt all entered 2003 with a feeling of calm entitlement to the Democratic nomination—the centrist party stalwarts, well-fitted into the Washington groove. They expected a gentlemen’s duel, but instead found themselves face-to-face with an irrepressible governor of a tiny New England state who had a lot of money and a lot of followers. After many months of hoping he’d go away if they ignored him, the aristocrats cracked and made Dean the man to attack, calling him at once too much like Bush and too radical lefty to win.

Candidate karaoke

Al Sharpton is the only presidential candidate who can say he was both James Brown’s road manager and an ordained minister by age 10. And just to prove how much fun the good reverend is, he hosted Saturday Night Live in early December and sang James Brown’s “I Feel Good” complete with booty shaking amusement. Sharpton is, however, still at the back of the pack according to current polls.

Told you we should’ve done a focus group first

Howard Dean’s well-intended but impolitic comment about Southerners with confederate flags sounded racist to blacks, condescending to white Southerners and too good to be true to Dick Gephardt, who pounced on Dean for appealing to people “who disagree with us on bedrock Democratic values like civil rights.” What Dean said: ‘’I still want to be the candidate for guys with Confederate flags in their pickup trucks. We can’t beat George Bush unless we appeal to a broad cross-section of Democrats.’’ Gephardt’s retort: “I will be the candidate for guys with American flags in their pickup trucks.” Memo to Dean and Gephardt: Pickup trucks are just as bad on gas mileage as SUVs.

Dude, this is a debate, not a Cosmo interview

After a year of struggling for media coverage of his campaign, Democratic presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich scored a coup in the Dec. 9 debate by chiding moderator Ted Koppel for focusing too much on how people felt about the Gore endorsement and how much money people had rather than on the issues. He got wild applause, and even mainstream commentators gave Kucinich the nod as the best performance of the night, even if they stopped short of saying he won the debate.

Déjà vu all over again

The space shuttle Columbia disintegrated over California and Texas on the morning of Feb. 1, killing all seven astronauts aboard. While the specific cause was a chunk of foam debris that fatally damaged Columbia’s left wing during launch, the commission that investigated the accident blamed NASA’s dysfunctional culture as the root of the agency’s problems.

Um, so this is a good thing?

In his first address following the tragic loss of the space shuttle Columbia, Pres. Bush waxed religious: “The same creator who names the stars also knows the names of the seven souls we mourn today. The crew of the shuttle did not return safely to Earth; yet we can pray that all are safely home.” In an earlier, ultimately rejected, draft of the speech, Pres. Bush was to inform the American public that the crew of the Columbia had been taken to the astronaut farm while we were at school.

Not quite so big media

On June 2, the Federal Communications Commission decided, in a 3-2 party-line vote, to relax media ownership rules and allow for greater consolidation among major media conglomerates. Despite a virtual blackout by the mainstream media outlets—owners of which would benefit the most from relaxed ownership rules—millions of U.S. citizens wrote their congressmen to maintain the status quo. Congress took note and decided to allow for less consolidation than recommended by the FCC, a move that is currently being challenged in court by the FCC.

While you weren’t paying attention

Thousands of Britons took to the streets as President Bush was wined and dined by British royalty. On CNN all we saw was Michael Jackson’s SUV roll down the thruway. Coinciding with Bush’s visit to London, two truck bombs explode outside of British-owned hotels in Turkey killing 30 and wounding another 500. On FOX News we saw the tailfin of Michael Jackson’s private jet jutting out from a hangar. Police and protestors clashed in Miami outside a meeting of the FTAA. Michael Jackson’s mug shot was all over television. Hey, I know they’ll be discussing the upcoming presidential election on the news shows tonight, but I hear Tommy Hilfiger’s daughter and Paris Hilton will be making out on Survivor. Wanna watch?

Mea culpa¹

OK, so it wasn’t a banner year for serious journalism—what with all the lying, cheating and taking credit for other people’s work and so forth. From CNN’s suppression of information about Hussein’s atrocities to protect their staff in Iraq, to British journalist Jason Forlong’s manufactured coverage of a missile launch assembled from stock footage, to the spectacular debacle at the Times (Blair and Bragg and LeDuff, oh my), the industry really seemed to be asleep at the switch. Fortunately, there has been no similar crisis in service journalism: The reputation of reporters covering the thorny issues of speed dating, online dating, seniors dating and “just-lunch” dating remains absolutely unchanged.

¹portions of this blurb may have been researched and/or reported by—even written by—someone entirely different from the person who will try to collect the check

Being in power ain’t enough

They called it flight of the Killer D’s—and things far less flattering—when 51 Texas Democrats holed up in a hotel in Oklahoma to prevent the necessary quorum to pass a GOP redistricting bill. What got less attention was the fact that the redistricting attempt was a bald power grab, out of line with long-established redistricting norms: the once-a-decade based-on-the-census lines had already been drawn, but Congressman Tom DeLay thought he deserved more safe Republican districts, since so many Texans were voting Republican (except for Congress). A similar GOP power-solidifying gerrymandering attempt in Colorado was thrown out by the courts; Texas’ eventually did pass and is currently before a federal court.

Everything you’ve heard about California is true

The recall circus turned out exactly the way Republican strategists planned it, with the woefully unpopular Gov. Gray Davis getting the boot from voters, and Hollywood action figure Arnold Schwarzenegger winning the race to take his place, brushing aside a slew of last-minute sexual-harassment charges like so many pesky enemies of Conan. How the business-friendly but socially moderate Schwarzenegger will govern remains to be seen, though his ties to the dark side of corporate America are coming to light: The governor, who met secretly with disgraced Enron CEO Kenneth Lay in 2001, has announced he will settle the state’s energy-fraud lawsuits—intended to compensate citizens for money gouged by the likes of Enron during California’s energy crisis—for pennies on the dollar. The terminator, indeed.

The line forms here

California’s economy was seriously harmed and slowed thanks to the huge Los Angeles transit strike and the strike and/or lock-out of 85,000 state grocery workers, the first grocery strike in 25 years. Since mid-October, grocery workers have been on strike opposing huge pay and benefit cuts, though a similar strike affecting Kroger grocery stores in Ohio, West Virginia and Kentucky was resolved early in December putting 3,300 employees back to work. Welcome to the jobless recovery.

Throw your hands in the air, but first bend over

The U.S. National Labor Committee issued a report that P. Diddy’s Sean John line of clothing and Rocawear, which is co-owned by Jay-Z and Damon Dash, both use the same Honduran sweatshop to manufacture their clothes. In the plant, it is alleged, workers are paid the equivalent of about 75 cents for each $50 sweatshirt they manufacture. In addition, workers are subject to mandatory daily body searches. Both P. Diddy and Jay-Z denied the charges, claiming that there had been a misunderstanding: The rappers stated that the facilities weren’t sweatshops at all, but amusement parks simulating the experience of one of their stateside concerts. “A quick frisk, and less than a bucks’ worth of enjoyment from a $50 product, you know what I’m saying?” Mr. Diddy explained.

If only the Healthy Forests Initiative had been in place

Wildfires raged throughout the West this year, especially in California, where well over 300,000 acres were scorched. Relief aid to Californians has so far exceeded $30 million, and some economists expect claims to top $1.5 billion and cost the California economy $2 billion. But it’s OK. President Bush and the EPA have a new clear-cutting and pro-logging initiative that’ll help clear out that pesky growth.

Avast ye, pirates!

The Recording Industry Association of America let the strong-arm tactics fly this year, and lawsuits abounded. Hundreds of people—from 12-year-olds in public housing to college kids to grannies—were sued for illegally downloading music. The RIAA drafted the head of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms to run its anti-piracy group and set up 1-888-BAD-BEAT for people who wish to earn a $10,000 reward for tipping them off to a pirate. Surprise, surprise, people are still downloading.

Fairly unbalanced

It must be that liberal media again, confusing people. In August that famously neutral network Fox News sued comedian Al Franken for using “their” phrase “fair and balanced” in the title of his book Lies and Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right. Fox claimed people might think they’d sponsored the book. Yep. Just like some people think Dubya was a Rhodes scholar because he has a Southern accent.

Anything for a few Bucks®

In March, HaidaBucks, a tiny café on an island off the north coast of British Columbia, received a cease and desist letter from Starbucks insisting that it change its name and logo (which, you guessed it, looks nothing like a mermaid) because it was infringing on Starbucks’ trademark. The co-owners are members of the Haida nation, which calls its young men bucks. After the café put up a legal fight and garnered widespread public support, Starbucks backed down, inelegantly, by claiming the café had agreed to make “appropriate changes” and not expand the business off the island. The owners say they’ve agreed to no such things.

Shock in advertising

To win the all-important battle for the hearts and minds of young video-game players, Sony’s entertainment division attempted to copyright the term “shock and awe” for future use in a yet-to-be-developed video game earlier this year. A fine choice for a video game title were it not military shorthand for the effects of a blitzkrieg-style attack on an enemy. As in, “We’ll drop so many damn bombs on the bastards, they’ll be in awe and too shocked to fight.” Great message for the kiddies, no? Facing a hail of criticism, better judgment prevailed and Sony withdrew its copyright application.

We’re shocked. Shocked!

Essie Mae Washington-Williams, 78, went public with what she’d known since she was 16: Strom Thurmond was her father. At 22, Thurmond had an affair with his family’s 15-year-old black maid. Ms. Washington-Williams met her father at 16 and appears to hold no malice against the original Dixiecrat. Thurmond, who died this year, made a bid for the presidency on a staunch segregationist platform in 1948, and stuck to that platform as a senator throughout the civil-rights movement of the 1960s. He spoke for 24 hours and 18 minutes filibustering against the 1957 civil-rights bill.

Repeat after me: we are a modern and technologically advanced nation

For the second time in two years, Manhattan commuters were walking home across bridges, as the Great Blackout of 2003 swept the northeast on Aug. 14, cutting off power to 50 million people in the United States and Canada. While official reports laid the blame at the feet of a few slow-moving operators and some outdated procedures in Indiana, cranky muckraker Greg Palast pointed out that blackouts have followed energy deregulation across the world, as power companies are no longer required to do pesky things like perform sufficient maintenance.

If we build it, will they come?

After a long period of debate and compromise, a plan for new construction at the site of the World Trade Center appears to have been finalized. The new “simple and pure” structure, to be named the Freedom Tower, will be the tallest building in the world. The complete reconstruction of the site is expected to take 10 years, though the start-and-stop nature of the process thus far calls that timetable into question—however, it does appear that the “two vast and trunkless legs of stone” proposed by the Ozymandias architectural firm finally have been ruled out completely.

Welcome to the machines

Coming soon to every voting booth near you—electronic voting machines! Guaranteed to steal, if not your vote, at least your confidence in a voting system! Code for these machines has been leaked onto the Internet and is apparently so riddled with potential points of entry for would-be election pirates that it has become a really funny joke among computer geeks. We’d be laughing too, but thanks to a federal mandate we’ll be electing our presidents on these machines from here on out.

Rich vs. Poor, round 643,000,000

A World Trade Organization summit in Cancun, Mexico fell apart in September when the 146 participating countries failed to reach agreements on agricultural subsidies, trading rules and market access. While many media reports chose to focus on the political implications of the WTO losing credibility, few got to the heart of how the trade organization’s policies affect the world’s developing countries. Desperate to draw attention to how WTO policies affect farmers in his country, Lee Kyong-hae, a former president of the Korean Advanced Farmers Federation, committed ritual suicide during protests of the meetings. Months later, amid drastic militarization and huge protests, the Free Trade Agreement of the Americas meeting in Miami chose a much milder package pushed by Brazil over the U.S.-preferred model.

Thou shalt not confuse church and state

Things got ugly in Alabama when Chief Justice Roy Moore of the state supreme court refused to remove a 2.6 ton monument to the Ten Commandments from the courthouse’s rotunda. A federal judge ruled that the granite slab was an unconstitutional religious endorsement and Moore was subsequently removed from office by the Court of the Judiciary. What was crazier? A CNN-USA Today-Gallup poll from August found only one out of five Americans approved of the monument’s removal.

Maybe we should rent a movie . . .

It was a scary year on the nightclub scene—stampedes and fires caused more than 100 people to die this year alone. In February the club Epitome, located on Chicago’s South Side, was filled with more than 1,500 people when a fight broke out and someone sprayed pepper spray. People freaked and rushed the door, but the door was blocked because too many people were stacked up against it. The result? A whole lot of people injured, and 21 dead as a result of being crushed or suffocated. Also in February, at the Station, a West Warwick, R.I., nightclub, a fire erupted during a pyrotechnic display when the Great White were playing a set. That fire ranks as one of the deadliest fires in nightclub history, with 100 people dead.


If you only paid attention to CNN and MSNBC, the Washington Post and The New York Times, you might think that the only people who go missing in this country are white, middle-to-upper-class girls or young women. Yes, it’s terrible that anyone goes missing, but why is it that Elizabeth Smart (the girl taken by gunpoint from her bedroom in her Utah home) has become a household name when you’ve probably never even heard of Alexis Patterson, a 7-year-old girl kidnapped on her way to school in Milwaukee a month before? Smart is white and Patterson is black. Any good reason for the difference in coverage is missing.

How gilded is your parachute?

Dick Grasso, CEO of the New York Stock Exchange, unapologetically defended his promised $139.5 million retirement pay package when news broke about it in late summer. Public investors like NYS Comptroller Alan Hevesi called for Grasso’s head, and he resigned in mid-September at the behest of the stock exchange’s board. New York’s former Comptroller H. Carl McCall served as Grasso’s temporary replacement and subsequently stepped down.

I’ve got your reform right here

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled the University of Michigan’s point-based affirmative-action admissions policy unconstitutional this fall. In her dreamily written opinion, Justice O’Connor spoke of a color-blind nation of the future where such policies would no longer be necessary. The court also upheld all of the key provisions of the McCain–Feingold Campaign Finance law, which bans large donations from corporations, unions and individuals and limits funding for broadcast ads before an election.

If people don’t agree with you, try renaming what you want

Third time’s the charm. After two vetoes from President Clinton, anti-choice activists succeeded in passing a federal so-called “partial-birth abortion” ban. Despite supporters’ claims that it bans only one specific, nasty, very late-term method, the phrase “partial-birth abortion” was invented by anti-choice groups, and the bill is vague enough to ban a wide range of procedures in the second and third trimesters. The bill also contains no exception for the health of the woman, something the Supreme Court has said is a no-no. Pro-choice groups call the law a straight-up abortion ban.

Too bad he has no idea what’s going on

Fifteen years after his presidency ended, Ronald Reagan remained a controversial figure. CBS dropped a bundle on a miniseries about him for sweeps week, and then dropped it when right-wing loudmouths mobilized against it. Then, some Republican diehards decided it would be a good idea to replace Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who created Social Security and led us through the Depression and World War II, with Reagan’s smiling mug on the dime. (Remember: you aren’t allowed on U.S. postage stamps until you’re dead.)

Pat Robertson: still a wacko

The good Reverend Pat, ex-presidential candidate and still host of cable’s 700 Club, is well known for his bizarre utterances. (After Sept. 11, he and Jerry Falwell sat down and agreed that the ACLU, homosexuals, feminists and their ilk were ultimately to blame.) This year, when George W. Bush called on Liberian president and accused war criminal Charles Taylor to resign, Robertson said: “So we’re undermining a Christian, Baptist president to bring in Muslim rebels to take over the country.” We’d like to think it was simple religious bigotry, and not Robertson’s $9 million investment in Liberian gold mines, which might be lost in a post-Taylor Liberia, that led him to such a characteristic statement.

Yep, you did in fact say I do

When the Ontario Supreme Court ruled that gays cannot be excluded from marriage, they added an extra little twist: the decision was retroactive, so two gay couples who in 2001 had gotten hitched the old-fashioned way—publishing the banns rather than getting a license, which was denied them—are now considered to have been legally married, becoming the first official same-sex married couple in the world.

Queers eye wedding rings

Break out the bubbly—and do it quick. In November, the Massachusetts Supreme Court ruled that it was unconstitutional to ban gays from the institution of civil marriage. People who want to keep marriage for heterosexuals—because they are doing so well with it, just ask the editors of Divorce magazine—have threatened a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage. The earliest that could get in front of voters, however, is 2006, so gay couples are hoping for at least a window of legality. Meanwhile, New York’s Dems have said gay marriage is good in theory.

Oh right, it’s the land of the free.

In a surprising display of good sense, the Supreme Court overturned a Texas anti-sodomy law, recognizing that what consenting adults do in their bedrooms is their own business. Justice Scalia, never one to get hysterical, said in his dissent that the court had “largely signed on to the homosexual agenda.”

Well, sometimes

Second-grader Marcus McLaurin of Louisiana was forced to write “I will never use the word gay in school again” over and over after he responded to a classmate’s query about his mother and father by explaining that he had two moms because they were gay. His “student behavior contract,” made public by the ACLU, reads, in part, “What I should have done: Cep my mouf shut.” Note to Marcus: that’s because some adults aren’t worth talking to.

Um, guys? You were founded by a serial ax-murderer

The election of Gene Robinson as the first openly gay bishop sent convulsions through the Episcopal Church, the American branch of Anglicanism, which was founded by England’s Henry VIII. While most New Hampshirans—and most Episcopalians—stuck by their man, dioceses from Africa to Albany threatened to split the denomination over the election. While that hasn’t happened yet, legal squabbling has begun over who gets church property if a parish secedes.

And competing with Scalia for the hysterics award

Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania nearly (unfortunately not quite) Trent Lott-ed himself by saying that decriminalizing gay sex would lead to rights to commit incest, adultery, and the ever-scary “anything!” His stupidity was immortalized by sex columnist Dan Savage, who held a contest to come up with a new definition for “santorum” and then energetically promoted the winner: “the frothy mixture of lube and fecal matter that is sometimes the by-product of anal sex.”

I don’t need no stinkin’ stop sign, I’m a congressman

After several years of accidents, close calls, speeding tickets, and unknown scores of would-have-been-tickets-except-he’s-the-governor/congressman, U.S.Rep. Bill Janklow (R-S.D.) got in a scrape no one could ignore: he killed a motorcyclist by plowing through a stop sign at over 70 mph. Janklow said he became disoriented due to a diabetic reaction, but the jury didn’t buy it. Janklow was convicted of manslaughter and will resign from the House in January. Still up in the air: if he’ll actually serve any time behind bars.

I wouldn’t listen to you if you were the last junkie on earth

It’s so tacky to be addicted to painkillers. So ’80s. But then again, so are Republicans. Conservative talk-radio personality Rush Limbaugh admitted he was addicted to prescription painkillers this fall and was absent from the airwaves when he went into rehab. Rehab did not seem to detox him of any piss or vinegar, however, as his return to radio was business as usual. Rush had no comment on his previous calls to rectify the racial imbalance in drug arrests by arresting more whites.

Whaddya want? A flood?

Devout and traditional (as in he wants his mass in Latin) Catholic Mel Gibson spent much of the year work on a movie about the Passion, to be released on Ash Wednesday. The project stirred up quite a bit of controversy, including accusations of anti-Semitism. The Pope recently gave it his thumbs up (“It is as it was.”), but some say the Big Guy himself weighed in first: In the fall, the actor playing Jesus and the assistant director were both struck by lightning, on location. In fact, the assistant director was hit twice. Maybe the Pope needs to turn up his hearing aid.

I’m sorry Miss Parks?

To their surprise, OutKast are being sued by Rosa Parks for using her name in a song (“Rosa Parks”) without her permission on their 1998 album Aquemini. Although the suit began in 1999, legal action picked up momentum again this December when the U.S. Supreme Court gave Rosa Parks’ legal team the green light to sue the multiplatinum Grammy-nominated hip-hop duo for using her name as a song title, though not for using it in the lyrics. The matter has been remanded to a federal judge for pretrial hearings.

Coming soon: a metrosexual near you!

What do you get when you put five very gay queers in the same room with one very straight guy? A whole lotta ratings! This year was quite a good year for Bravo, the channel that dared to go where no other channel would go: gay. Five loveable gay guys were selected and put on a show (Ahem, Queer Eye for the Straight Guy) in order to make over the clueless straight guys of the nation. There’s a separate queer eye for all the different ways a straight guy can fuck up: one for culture, one for grooming, one for cooking, one for interior design, and one for fashion. Ah, at last! The best of both worlds—on Bravo.

But ociffer, don’t you know who I am?

Courtney Love should be used to drug charges by now, and indeed she was hit again this fall after an accidental overdose on oxycontin. Love has lost custody of her child and been spotted wandering around naked in a live-in rehab facility, yet somehow got out to go club-hopping. December was a ripe month for celebrity arrests: Parliament Funkadelic’s George Clinton was busted for coke at the ripe age of 62; frontman for the White Stripes, Jack White, was arrested on aggravated assault charges for beating the b’jesus out of Jason Stollsteimer, singer-guitarist of the Von Bondies, in a Detroit bar; and Bobby Brown was arrested for battery for getting too nasty with his wife Whitney Houston. Glen Campbell and Wynonna Judd were also both recently nabbed for drunk driving.

This just in: people the result of sex!

Media outlets were frothing in a fit of vicarious teen lust when it was reported that a new sex game was sweeping American schools. Color-coded plastic bracelets, each color signifying a different sex act, were worn by participants; if a bracelet was successfully broken from the wrist of the wearer, the wearer was obliged to perform the act indicated. Eegads! Teenagers are . . . are . . . are . . . doing it! Yike! And, apparently, adolescent foreplay is . . . is . . . juvenile! And what’s more . . . oh, settle down. It was all bullshit anyway. Further investigation revealed a shocking dearth of teens who would admit to participating; seems they all just read about it on prurient news Web sites shielding with mock indignation their childish fixations on lithe young bodies. . . . tee, hee . . . . doing the nasty!

And I didn’t do that other filthy thing I didn’t do either

Britain’s Prince Charles (who is sooo not gay) issued a bizarre preemptive denial of something or other (that was in no way gay), having to do with something a former (not gay) servant claims to have seen him engaged in with another servant (also sooo not gay), or something like that. The (totally not-gay) thing—that didn’t happen anyway—can’t be reported, because of an injunction issued by a British court before the (very butch) denial.

For my next trick, I won’t do anything at all—but backwards!

American magician/performance artist David Blaine sat in a transparent box suspended over the Thames River for 44 days without food. Sat in a box. For a month and a half. Doing nothing. Didn’t eat. Didn’t juggle. No card tricks. No ladies sawn in half. No disappearing monuments. Nothing. Just sitting. Legendary debunker the Amazing Randi is still at a loss to explain to mystifying stunt.

I want to rock with you, by any means necessary

The legally embattled King of Pop, Michael Jackson, has reportedly turned over the security of his home, the Neverland Ranch, and the management of his affairs to the black separatist group the Nation of Islam. Though Jackson’s lawyer and the Nation of Islam’s official newspaper, The Final Call, denied the claims, one of Jackson’s spokesmen has quit in protest of the group’s presence at the ranch, and friends of Jackson have made anonymous statements to the press that the group has restricted access to the singer, and appears to be influencing his decision making. There is no report on whether or not the group’s leader, Louis Farrakhan, has mastered the moonwalk.

Wall of sound to include barbed wire

In February, Phil Spector, 62, was charged with the murder of Lana Clarkson, 40, a B-movie actress he’d just met. Spector, a record industry giant for his impressive work as a pop producer, has a reputation for gun toting and scaring the heck out of the acts he’s worked with. Clarkson was found dead at the entrance of his home in early February.

Hush your mouths

When, on March 10, Dixie Chicks lead singer Natalie Maines told a London concert audience “Just so you know, we’re ashamed the president of the United States is from Texas,” she probably had no idea of the trouble she was getting into. Radio stations—entire radio networks—dropped the Chicks from their playlists, former fans burned their albums, other country stars criticized them, and they received death threats. After an initial apology, Maines and company fired back with a strong defense of free speech and a nude cover shot for Entertainment Weekly. They ain’t your mama’s country girls.

From beyond the grave

Warren Zevon starred in a VH1 special, and had his highest-charting album in decades. Johnny Cash released yet another bestselling collaboration with Rick Rubin, as well as a multidisc set of his unreleased American recordings; he also earned a half-dozen MTV award nominations for the video of his gripping cover of Nine Inch Nails’ “Hurt.” And they both found success in spite of—because of?—dying. Meanwhile, Johnny’s better half, June Carter Cash, released her acclaimed last album before shaking off this mortal coil, and Tupac Shakur’s latest posthumous disc, Tupac Resurrection, sold briskly. Do you have to die to break into the Top 10 these days?

Stupid cupid

What a year for love—that very special kind of love, celebrity love. Let’s start with the one word that needs no elaboration: Bennifer. How we swooned to the trials of Ben and Jen. Would they? Wouldn’t they? Would she forgive him that trip to the strip joint? Would he forgive her for hating Matt Damon? Then there was the charming, camera-shy romance between Gwyneth Paltrow and Coldplay’s Chris Martin. This had a fairy-tale ending: She got knocked up and they married. Things weren’t so swell for rapper 50 Cent and Vivica A. Fox, however. When they phffted, he accused her of stalking him. Fox claimed to have only learned of the break-up when Cent told Howard Stern about it on the radio. (Ouch.) The year ended on a joyous note, however, as America fell in love with Paris Hilton.

The 75th annual Madonna year-end wrap-up

While the one-time material girl’s new music didn’t exactly set the charts on fire, Madonna certainly had a full year. She kissed Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera at the MTV Video Music awards, and published a children’s book.

Nobody does more for the great state of New York than . . .

Facing a nearly $12 billion deficit at the beginning of the year, Gov. George E. Pataki was playing doctor to a state that was fiscally ill. The bitter pill he prescribed was a budget that slashed general education funds, abandoned healthcare initiatives and forced SUNY tuition to skyrocket—all while allowing corporate tax loopholes to remain open. The state legislators called the governor’s budget heartless, and produced their own plan, one that the governor called irresponsible and vetoed. The Legislature in return overrode all 119 of his vetoes.

Spitzer 2006

Oh, Eliot, where will you stop? You’ve uncovered corruption after corruption on Wall Street. You, along with a host of other attorneys general, have filed lawsuit after lawsuit forcing the Bush administration to honor the Clean Air Act. You were courted by Wesley Clark to be his vice presidential candidate. A Spitzer 2006 political action committee has collected nearly $2 million on your behalf for a presumed gubernatorial bid still two years away. Our only question: Should we prepare your coach to the White House for 2008 or 2012?

Does that mean that Jim Coyne thinks he’s Jesus?

Earlier this year former Albany County Executive Jimmy Coyne attempted to purchase the Washington Avenue Armory with plans to turn the decaying structure into a sports-concerts venue and bring back the Albany Patroons. But from the start there was an air of impossibility surrounding the idea—no Continental Basketball Association teams exist on the East Coast and Coyne refused to disclose any specific plans or his business associates. When Mayor Jerry Jennings caught a whiff he asked state regulators to halt the sale and they complied. Coyne has since filed a lawsuit, seeking for redemption in what he called “the biggest betrayal since Judas.”

I hear they’re coming for my potato chips next

On July 24, 2003 it became illegal to smoke tobacco products in bars and restaurants throughout New York state. While many lauded the decision as a major public health initiative, bar and restaurant owners have lambasted the law saying it will severely hurt their businesses. According to wire reports, many afflicted patrons and businessmen have been so distraught by the news they’ve had to step outside for a smoke.

Suck it up, Lark Street

Oh, it was just a horror wasn’t it? They tore up the sidewalks, funneled traffic into those little lanes and then they slaughtered the trees all in the name of revitalization. The inconvenience was almost too much trauma for Lark Street to bear. Some hack political-poster artist plastered the street’s construction equipment with pixilated, error-riddled posters of Mayor Jerry Jennings with “I Hate Trees” scrawled across his head. Now it’s all said and done and folks have found a new sense of irritation—the decorative cobblestones in the intersections and how they’ll be the cause of multiple car accidents this winter. Oy. Maybe Lark Street’s nickname, “The Heart of Albany’s Downtown,” should be renovated as well—“Lark Street: A Beautiful Place to Bitch About.”

Albany County Dems got it all wrong

When a local chapter of the NAACP and a community activist alleged that the voting maps adopted by the Albany County Legislature in late 2002 shortchanged the county’s growing ethnic-minority population, the body’s Democratic majority rebuffed the charges. Eight months later Albany County Dems swallowed their pride, and the old maps, when a federal judge halted this year’s legislative elections and required the legislature to redraw its maps to provide for adequate minority representation.

The T-shirts heard round the world

Want to hear a story? A couple of guys walk into a mall one day and buy some T-shirts. One says “Peace on Earth” and the other says “No War with Iraq.” Both guys promptly put on their shirts, displaying ever so quaintly their disdain for a pending war. Next thing you know, mall security asks the two guys to remove their shirts. It’s mall policy, he says. One guy says “No” and is arrested for trespassing. Word gets out and the whole world is pointing and laughing at this silly little mall in Upstate New York—a mall that is owned by a company asking for tax breaks to build an even bigger mall where you won’t be allowed to wear other T-shirts. Pretty unbelievable, huh?

You’re pimping that big yellow smiley face, can’t you take a joke?

In April a couple of buggers at RPI created a Web site spoofing’s slogan, “Name Your Own Price,” and applying it to shopping at Wal-Mart. You could name your own price, download and print your own barcodes and go shopping—kind of like Wal-Mart itself, which due to its size can set its own prices with distributors who must capitulate or lose a huge share of the market. Kind of cute, right? Wal-Mart didn’t think so and they threatened the unnamed hackers with a lawsuit unless they pulled the Web site.

Later, Mayor Al

It’s been a tough run for Albert P. Jurczynski, Schenectady’s departing mayor. During his tenure the city’s been rattled by a police corruption scandal, caught unprepared for snowstorms and seen its finances all but wither away. Under Al’s watch the city’s bond rating was recently downgraded to the lowest in the state, and Metroplex, an all-powerful yet unaccountable public authority, has vastly increased its power. At least with his sweet new gig in Gov. Pataki’s Office of Small Cities, Mayor Al will be able to prescribe the Jurczynski treatment to developing metropolises throughout the state—getchaself some Guyanese!

Funny Cide, we hardly knew ye

Saratoga Springs-born horse Funny Cide became a local phenomenon when he nearly won thoroughbred racing’s biggest prize, the Triple Crown. And even though he wasn’t able to run in the Travers, we loved him still.

Don’t let the door hit you on the way out

Longtime (seven years) UAlbany president Karen Hitchcock resigned. Some say that this was the result of a lost power struggle over the future of nanotech with SUNY system chancellor Robert King (who also happens to be Gov. Pataki’s good pal). We’d feel more sorry for her if she hadn’t supported wiping out acres of on-campus natural habitat to build ugly (and useless) housing for graduate students.

Rensselaer follies

City of Rensselaer Police Chief Rick Fusco filed a $3 million lawsuit against Mayor Mark Pratt and several current and former members of the police force for creating an “extremely hostile work environment.” The bad blood started when the mayor suspended the chief for being drunk at a crime scene, a charge that was not true. The chief then had the mayor arrested for, essentially, stealing city gasoline. This was thrown out of court. Maybe the W.C. Fields solution for settling disputes between world leaders should be employed: The mayor and the chief could meet in the Amtrak parking lot, and battle it out with socks filled with horse dung.

Not just for gray-haired fundamentalists anymore

Vegan, hip, loud, and more likely to carry graphic fetus pictures than statues of Mary, the Rock for Lifers made their debut outside Albany’s Planned Parenthood clinic this summer. They raised eyebrows by videotaping the door and handing out anti-contraception pamphlets, probably making some clinic escorts think more fondly of their usual quietly praying adversaries.

You say intimidation, I say ballot security

Saratoga Springs Republicans tried to take Skidmore College’s polling place away in early 2003, then actively campaigned to students, then intimidated them on Election Day. Aggressive Republican poll watchers challenged voters at the college’s polling place on the grounds that the college’s campus was not their residence and therefore could not be their polling place. Brendan Quinn, a Republican hessian who participated in the Floridian hijinks of 2000, led the charge to effectively discourage the mostly Democratic student voting block in what were tight elections. The Republican mayoral candidate was elected by a scant 77 votes.

What part of hard-working law-abiding immigrant don’t you understand?

For Ansar Mahmood, not a lot changed in 2003. The Hudson resident and Pakistani native who was caught up in the post-Sept. 11 hysteria and detained for helping some friends get an apartment spent the entire year in jail awaiting deportation. But the year did see a massive increase in awareness of his plight, with members of his hometown organizing tirelessly for his release.

Rolled over Beethoven

First, WMHT fired their in-house TV production staff, including acclaimed documentary filmmaker Steve Dunn. Then they gutted their classical-music radio station, firing the knowledgeable, entertaining, long- serving and unionized on-air talent in favor of a depressingly formulaic satellite service out of Minnesota. With WAMC-FM having eliminated almost all of their classical programming (and evidencing little thought behind their use of music in general), the Capital Region lost an essential cultural resource in WMHT-FM.

Overture, curtains, lights

The “phase one” rehabilitation of Albany’s Palace Theatre was completed in time for a gala concert with Tony Bennett on May 1. The seats were refurbished, the ornate architectural details were exquisitely restored, and the entire interior got a fine new coat of paint—to spectacular effect. Now, if they’d just get that new marquee installed.

At least they weren’t damaged in a nuclear explosion

On Dec. 9, while loading 300-ton generators, the Dutch cargo ship the Stellamare lost its balance and tipped over into the icy waters of the Port of Albany, killing three crew members. The unusual tragedy paralyzed the port while divers looked for the missing crew. The generators were on their way back to Romania after a stay at the Schenectady GE plant—where they were having water damage repaired.

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