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Gone but not forgotten

The victims of the Asian earthquake and tsunamis, the casualties of the ongoing Iraq conflict, Ronald Reagan, Yasir Arafat, Susan Sontag, Marlon Brando, Janet Leigh, Christopher Reeve, Spalding Gray, Ray Charles, Johnny Ramone, Richard Avedon, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Theo Van Gogh, Russ Meyer, Alistair Cooke, Tony Randall, Rodney Dangerfield, Fay Wray, Jack Paar, John Peel, Julia Child, Estee Lauder, Geoffrey Beene, Rick James.

Also, Dutch Queen Mother Juliana, Dominican Prime Minister Pierre Charles, Macedonian President Boris Trajkovski.

Actors Uta Haggen, Ron O’Neil, John Drew Barrymore, Paul Winfield, Robert Pastorelli, Jerry Orbach, Ann Miller, Isabelle Sanford, Alan King, Anna Lee, Joe Viterelli, Carl Anderson, Frances Dee, Richard Biggs, Mercedes McCambridge; producer Ray Stark.

Musicians Ellis Marsalis, “Dimebag” Darrell Abbott, Elvin Jones, Robert Merrill, Russell Jones (a.k.a. Ol’ Dirty Bastard), Jerry Scoggins, Vestal Goodman, Etta Moten, Randy VanWarmer, Laura Branigan, Skeeter Davis, James Lawrence, Dave Blood, Ustad Vilayat Khan, Harry Babbitt, Derek Frigo, Robert Quine, Steve Lacy, Izora Rhodes Armstead, DJ Scott Muni, Arthur “Killer” Kane, Jerry Goldsmith, Illinois Jacquet, Doris Troy, Bart Howard.

Authors/screenwriters Arthur Hailey, John Dunne, John Toland, Olivia Goldsmith, Francoise Sagan, Alexandra Ripley, Jerome Lawrence, William Manchester, Robert Lees, Nathan Heard; poets Mona Van Duyn, Pedro Pietri, Mattie Stepanek.

Dancer June Taylor; illustrator George Woodbridge; journalists Mary McGrory, Philip Hamburger, Norton Mockridge, Jerry Nachman, Agnes Cunningham; photographers Francesco Scavullo, Eddie Adams.

Scientists/researchers Arthur R. von Hippel, Norman Heatley, Elizabeth Kubler Ross, Francis Crick, Albert Hoffman.

Stax Records cofounder Estelle Axton, record-label pioneer Greg Shaw, record producer Terry Melcher, music publisher Julian Aberbach.

Athletes Tug McGraw, Reggie White, Hank Borowy; New York Mets broadcaster Bob Murphy; Cincinnati Reds owner Marge Schott.

Local saloonkeepers Rocky Nigro, Eamonn McGirr.

Captain Kangaroo creator Bob Keeshan, early MTV veejay JJ Jackson, game-show host Art James, Frugal Gourmet Jeff Smith, Palmolive lady Jan Miner, space trailblazer Max Faget, movie popcorn pioneer Samuel Rubin, McDonald’s CEO Jim Cantalupo, Central Park Zoo polar bear Lily, serial killer Harold Shipman, oldest American William Coates (114).

Gone and forgotten

America as a world leader in civil rights; candidates Gephardt, Clark, Kucinich, et al.

Gone

Unscripted presidential press conferences; Miss Mary’s Art Space and Screed; Albany-Schenectady League of Arts; John Brodeur’s van.

Going?

Roe v. Wade; geocaching; separation of church and state.

Here and Gone

Gay marriage; parking on Central Avenue; Bernie Kerik.

Gone and Back Again

Britney’s wedding ring; Howard Dean; Michael Jackson’s, um, little problem; the New York City Ballet at SPAC; R.M. Englehardt; Bill Clinton; racial profiling; logging in national parks.

Gone and Back and Gone and Back Again

Jim Coyne.

Gone and back as intelligent design

Creationism.

Gone for 86 years and back

The Boston Red Sox.

Gone to the dogs

A skeptical media; the Geneva Conventions.

Gone to Haiti

John C. Nielsen.

Please Go Away

The Red States v. Blue States division; family values; the FCC; Linsday Lohan; Ann Coulter; John Kerry; Star Jones; Donald Rumsfeld.

Going, going . . .

Bush’s cabinet; half of the CIA; Herb Chesbrough.

Dean and the machine

Former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean campaigned on the unique—at least, in recent years—notion that the Democratic Party could be more than an in-name-only alternative to the neo-conservative agenda and became the favored candidate for Democrats (and “Deaniacs”) looking for more than just “electability” in their next president. Instead of tip-toeing around the most controversial issues like fellow his candidates, Dean made the war—as well as other progressive issues like same-sex unions and universal healthcare—a central part of his platform and encouraged other Democrats to do the same. Whether the Democratic Party will continue making progressive politics a platform instead of just an early campaign strategy has yet to be seen, but rumors are flying about Dean possibly being considered to chair the Democratic National Committee.

The scream

The “scream heard ‘round the world” was exactly that. After airing the footage of Howard Dean’s “Yea!” more than 600 times in four days, CNN admitted that it might have gone a little too far in its coverage of what had been—to most of those present when it happened, at least—an entirely unremarkable event. Cameras neglected to show the wildly cheering crowd Dean’s voice was competing against, and the shout had all of the background noise removed before it was force-fed to television and radio audiences. While some argue that the previous day’s loss in Iowa had already begun Dean’s fade from grace, questions remain about CNN and other news channels’ decision to put so much emphasis on a nonstory.

The teflon rev

The Rev. Al Sharpton has no church, no congregation, no actual constituency and his failed presidential campaign was funded, to a great extent, by Republicans. So why do we still like him? Of course, there’s the hair, and the fact that he’s snagged all those cool TV guest shots lately. But back during the campaign, he said the things no one else but Kucinich would say, with a passion the more sincere Dennis couldn’t muster: “The promise of America is that we stand for human rights, whether it’s fighting against slavery in the Sudan, AIDS in Lesotho, or police misconduct in this country.” That’s passion Kerry couldn’t buy.

The little candidate
that kept going

Long after his fellow non-Kerry Democrats dropped out of the race for the Democratic
presidential nomination, Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) soldiered on right up to the convention, building on some impressive second and thirdplace showings in the primaries and some shining debate moments (including his scolding of Ted Koppel for asking superficial questions) to try to keep issues like peace, justice, and corporate responsibility on the table and in the Democrats’ platform. He got some language regarding troop withdrawal into the platform, and got to speak at the convention, and then endorsed Kerry.

Kerry, Kerry, Kerry

We wrote him off, we warmed up to him, we groaned, we were pleasantly surprised, and we were seriously disappointed. And that was all before the election that he conceded for the sake of his political career, even when recounts were being called for and reports of serious voting problems kept pouring in. The upper crust yet ethical, progressive on many fronts yet crushingly wimpy on others senator from Massachusetts led the country’s non-Bush supporters (who go way beyond Democrats) on a roller coaster ride we’d rather forget.

Campaign finance from
the masses

MoveOn PAC, the powerful Internet advocacy group, kept up its ceaseless work raising unprecedented amounts of money from small donors for everything from anti-Bush TV ads to a sophisticated swing-state volunteer effort. They must have been doing something right, since they became worthy of vicious attacks by the Bush apparatus.

The first bad sign

For such a big year, you’d think the Democratic National Convention would’ve been an interesting affair. But by then the worried Dems were lined up behind Kerry as their man, and his famous last-minute sprint had not yet begun. The mélange of protest and commerce outside the barricades got about 300 times less media coverage than the not-as-bad-as-predicted inconvenience to Boston commuters.

The dykes’ Uncle Tom

Despite a widespread campaign by marriage equality advocates to encourage Vice President Dick Cheney’s daughter, Mary Cheney, a partnered lesbian, to speak out for gay rights, Mary stayed mum, and continued to earn a big salary working for her Daddy’s re-election. Though Cheney was clearly uncomfortable with the position this put him in, thanks to the Dems’ Twilight Zone tactics he managed to come off sounding more gay positive than Edwards in the VP debate. And yet it was apparently a “cheap shot” for Kerry to mention the issue at all.

The GOP and the RNC in the NYC

In August, the Grand Old Party threw a wild one just a few blocks from the remains of the World Trade Center, despite vowing never to politicize the tragic events of Sept. 11, 2001. Massive protests, heavy-handed arrests and red-white-and-blue cowboy hats filled the avenues, while loyal Republicans were shuttled around the city like foreign ambassadors. If you didn’t toe the party line, you got caught in the crossfire—as one of Metroland’s own can attest.

Doesn’t the Navy teach honor?

In a move oily with Karl Rove’s fingerprints, “Swift Boat Veterans for Truth” attacked John Kerry’s status as a war hero—to distract from the fact that their candidate not only hadn’t seen combat, but was a deserter (ABC’s fake memo scandal aside, there’s plenty of other evidence for that, not to mention no evidence to the contrary). Despite their shameless chicanery—including listing as supporters swift-boat veterans who explicitly didn’t agree with them—the blitz of SBVT advertising successfully sowed doubt and confusion and steered the campaign away from substance.

Off his meds

Zell Miller, Democratic senator from Georgia, went a little funny in the head this year. Just, you know, a little funny. He vehemently repudiated nominee John Kerry in a blistering speech at the Republican convention that had viewers wondering if Miller’s head was going to explode. Then, he challenged cable bobblehead Chris Matthews to a duel. Most recently, on Don Imus’ execrable radio show, Miller referred to Maureen Dowd as “Maureen Loud,” and called The New York Times columnist a “highbrow hussy from New York” with “horns sprouting out of her Technicolor hair.” It’s time for an intervention, or at least a competency hearing.

Idiot vs. idiot

All summer long we waited—how we waited—for John Kerry to go on the offensive against George W. Bush. We screamed at the TV: “C’mon, John. That idiot lied about the war—call him on it!” (We also yelled at him to answer those spurious Swift Boat charges, too, to no avail.) Finally, on Thursday, Sept. 30, in post-hurricane-ravaged Florida, Kerry cleaned Bush’s clock in the first presidential debate. After four years of no one asking tough questions, President Bush couldn’t handle it. The war? “It’s hard work.” The deficit? “I’m working hard.” His failed education policies? “It’s hard work.” Bush seemed dumb as hell, acting peevish and thoroughly unpresidential. Alas, this golden moment was the only one John Kerry—and the rest of us—would have.

Reelect us—or die

Dick Cheney suggested that only the Bush administration was up to the task of defending the United States against terrorism, and that a Kerry win would trigger massive terrorist attack, so, folks, well, feel free to take your chances . . .

Sometimes you have to suspend democracy to save it

And just in case of a terrorist attack before the election (or, maybe, a poor showing in the polls?), the Bush administration floated the possibility that the election might have to be suspended, you know, to protect us from . . . too much democracy?

Less is more

According to the CBC, voter turnout in Canada’s 2004 national election was “lower than in any national election since Confederation in 1867.” (Yes, kiddies, that’s when Canada was born.) South of the 49th parallel, however, more people voted in the U.S. presidential election than ever before. OK. They get gay marriage and Cuban cigars. We lose Roe vs. Wade and, oh, numerous Constitutional freedoms. Too bad our morons didn’t stay home like the nice, obliging Canadian stupid people.

He has spoken, sort of . . .

The Big Guy turned up everywhere this year—from feature films to national politics—but nowhere was the earthly presence of God made more obvious than in America’s favorite annoying hangnail, Florida. Between four major hurricanes, giant sinkholes, and Katherine Harris, Florida really felt His wrath in 2004. Wishful thinkers implied that God might have been trying to make a point about the election or something like that. In the long run, He proved to be no match for ol’ Jeb, and things pretty much returned to normal, as vote fraud abounded and the state went red in November.

Red, Blue, and Chilled All Over

George W. Bush was declared the winner of the presidential election in November, so Bush, Cheney, Rice and a slew of new cabinet members will be running the show for four more years. What can we expect? Operation Mission Accomplished will drag on indefinitely, killing who knows how many more Iraqis and American troops. Bush will protect our homeland security by replacing veteran intelligence gatherers with yes men. He will invigorate our faltering economy by pouring billions more into the war and cutting taxes for the wealthy. He will protect our Constitution by appointing activist right-wing judges. He will make environmental protection easier by reducing the amount of environment left to protect. He will unite us by dividing us. And those of the Red State persuasion can feel reassured that it was all necessary in order to stamp out gay marriage.

Hey, where you goin’ with my vote?

There were more reports than ever of voting irregularities this year, especially in Ohio, where Bush’s small margin of victory handed him the election. From suppression (too few voting machines in heavily Democratic precincts, phone calls directing urban voters to the wrong location, etc.) to charges of fraud (touch-screen machines showing Kerry voters that they had voted for Bush, tabulators recording more votes than the number of voters, etc.) to charges of fixing the recount (in one instance, a technician from a Republican-connected voting-machine company was allowed to tinker with the tabulator before it recounted the votes), there were hundreds of accounts of vote manipulation, and the stories are still being told. For his part, Kenneth Blackwell, the Ohio secretary of state and also the head of the state’s campaign to reelect Bush—how cozy!—has simply refused to answer any questions about the irregularities. Whatcha hiding, Kenneth?

Bush 2: Meet the New Boss

After four years of relative stability, George W. Bush’s cabinet has undergone a major reshuffling. Out went the unreliable (Colin Powell, State), the controversial (John Ashcroft, Justice), the ineffectual (Tom Ridge, Homeland Security), the incompetent (Rod Paige, Education) and, dare we admit it, the competent (Tommy Thompson, Health and Human Services). Most of their places were filled with Bush-friendly hacks. You know, folks who never say no to W. Who stayed? Incompetents like Donald Rumsfeld (Defense) and John Snow (Treasury). It’s gonna be a long four years.

Medium cool

Though blogging (that’s the gerund for maintaining a Web log, by the way) is hardly a new phenomenon, the popularity of such politically oriented sites as Matt Drudge’s Drudgereport and Ana Marie Cox’s Wonkette caught the attention of the more mainstream media this year in a major way. Though blogs provide ostensible competition in the commenting field (Drudge’s site notched a million hits on election day, beating the New York Times’ site by more than 30,000 users), some newspapers, networks and major cable news providers embraced them, giving ample column inches and even inviting them on air as talking heads. The immediacy and fluidity of the medium as opposed to traditional outlets often provides for drama and humor; but, though some provocative and seemingly prescient observations were posted, on election day itself the greatest advantage seemed to be the ability to rapidly retract.

OK, so I’m only supossed to kill the healthy ones?

American serviceman Staff Sgt. Johnny Horne was sentenced to three years in prison, after a court martial found him guilty of unpremeditated murder for the August shooting of a wounded 16-year-old Iraqi, whom Horne had decided to put “out of his misery.”

If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the split-screen

In April, after freedom-of-information activists successfully obtained release of photographs of the caskets of servicemen returning from Iraq to the air force base in Dover, Del., both the Bush administration and the Pentagon indicated they would work to prevent such releases in the future. As justification for such action, Bush pointed to a 1991 photo ban enacted by his father during the first Gulf war. Bush Sr.—as would his son later—cited respect for the affected families’ privacy as motivation, but critics pointed out that the ban was created shortly after he was depicted on network TV in a split-screen image that juxtaposed his laughing face with a row of caskets. Thus far, the younger Bush has avoided such problems: The issue of Time magazine proclaiming him Person of the Year issue, for example, contained an image of George W. bicycling while listening to “Brown-Eyed Girl” on his iPod, but not a single shot of hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of flag-draped coffins.

Draft? What draft?

In the grand tradition of supporting our troops, the U.S. Armed Forces started covering up their terrible over-extendness in Iraq using the fine print. They can—at least they claim they can—keep troops on duty after their time is up, and call retired servicepeople back to duty. Add to this the shipping overseas of middle-aged National Guard members who expected to serve at home, and there’s a lot of folks over there who didn’t exactly volunteer for what they’ve gotten. And a lot of families back home who didn’t either.

Decapitation and propaganda, live at 11

After a video of American businessman Nicholas Berg’s grisly beheading by Islamic militants in Iraq was posted on the Internet in April, television audiences and Internet surfers around the world soon bore witness to similar incidents at the rate of nearly one every other week. One of the most upsetting aspects of this trend—second only to the actual beheadings, of course—was the speed with which American intelligence agencies announced links between militant groups and the victims, who often denounced the American occupation of Iraq during their ransom videos, as if the victims were somehow responsible for their own murders.

But, sadly, the sword’s still pretty powerful

It was a treacherous year for journalists: Worldwide, 54 reporters were killed while on the job, the highest number in a decade. Not surprisingly, Iraq proved to be the hot spot, recording 23 killings (up from 13 last year). Most of those killed were Iraqis working for Western media. After Iraq, the most dangerous place to be a working journalist was the Philippines, where eight reporters were killed.

War is Heller

In a stunningly cynical bit of informal policy making, the Bush administration used a number of legal memoranda to effectively gut the Geneva Conventions in regard to U.S. activity in Afghanistan and Iraq. The administration identified opponents in those countries as “unlawful enemy combatants” (a term unrecognized by international law), and claimed that as such they were not protected; further memoranda were released permitting “coercive interrogation techniques,” such as sleep deprivation and forcing prisoners to maintain stressful and painful physical positions. These techniques, the administration argued, did not violate the Geneva agreement, because, well, because—weren’t you listening?—we’re choosing not to pay attention to it. QED. Journalists such as Pulitzer-prize-winner Seymour Hersh and military experts such as Phillip Carter have argued that, despite administration finger-pointing at a “few bad apples”, it was exactly this no-holds-barred pursuit of “intelligence” that facilitated abuses at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo.

It’s for your own good

The attempts to protect us from terrorism still continued to climb to new heights of surreal. While they didn’t involve extra border protections, taking nuclear power plants off line, or reducing our dependence on middle eastern oil, the Bush administration and likeminded fear-mongers has suggested, proposed or tried: removing public access to Global Positioning System data in some areas, refusing to publish books by dissenters in “enemy” states, banning photography and movie-making in subways, preventing Edward Kennedy and Cat Stevens from flying on airplanes, and diverted money away from mitigation measures that would prevent damage and loss of life following natural disasters. I feel safe. How ‘bout you?

The real danger to Americans

Sure, casualty rates in Iraq are rising, there’s no end to the war in sight and American soldiers are using cardboard boxes for armor, but don’t worry. After this year’s State of the Union address, you can feel safe knowing that the current administration is taking steps to end the real threat to the American Dream—the use of steroids by professional athletes. Drug users in high-level political seats or on the airwaves extolling the virtues of morality? No problem. But drug users in the football or baseball record books? Now that is the stuff of Code Orange alerts.

Jihad this

Right-wing high priestess of evil Ann Coulter outdid herself with this holiday message to Muslims posted on her Web site: “To The People of Islam: Just think: If we’d invaded your countries, killed your leaders and converted you to Christianity YOU’D ALL BE OPENING CHRISTMAS PRESENTS RIGHT ABOUT NOW! Merry Christmas.” Yikes. Double yikes. Ann, dear, in the immortal words of Jamie Kennedy: “Don’t be hatin’!”

Dude of the Year

His Daily Show is the hottest (and funniest) fake news program on cable. His America: The Book is a runaway best seller. Best of all, he called the bowtie-wearing conservative twerp Tucker Carlson a dick on national television. Forget Howard Stern. Jon Stewart is the new King of All Media.

Never Again?

There is war in Iraq. There is now a tragedy of massive proportions in South and Southeast Asia. But let’s not forget Sudan, where government-backed rebels are still killing innocent refugees in the Dafur region. We—as in our government and other world entities—have agreed that it is a genocide. Yet, little is done. After the Holocaust, we said “never again.” Then, after Rwanda, we said “never again.” Again. People continued to die, first in Congo, and now in Sudan. Maybe we should do something about genocide, or just shut the hell up.

Remember Afghanistan?

Afghans, including women, went to the polls for the first time this year. Despite widespread worries about voting fraud—the numbers suggested widespread multiple registrations and the indelible ink used to mark people who had voted in many cases rubbed off within an hour—election monitors said it had gone smoothly. U.S.-backed Hamid Karzai, who has been the interim leader, faced 15 opponents, who threatened a boycott of the results, claiming fraud. The United States dispatched negotiators to get them to agree to accept a Karzai win—before the ballots had been counted. Karzai it is.

What’s Russian for “Nothing for me, thanks”?

In the battle for the presidency of the Ukraine, things took a turn for the macabre when challenger Viktor Yushchenko was administered a dose of the highly toxic chemical dioxin (allegedly served to him in a meal by members of the Ukrainian secret service, said to be loyal to Yushchenko’s opponent, Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych). The 50-year-old Yushchenko went on to win the race by a significant margin, though Yanukovych says he will “never” concede.

Hell on Earth

Last week, an apocalyptic tsunami caused by a record-breaking 9.0-magnitude undersea earthquake devastated the South and Southeast Asian countries of India, Indonesia, Kenya, Malaysia, Maldives, Myanmar, Tanzania, Thailand, Somalia and Sri Lanka. The destruction and loss of life is astronomical. The most current death toll at publication was 80,000, and surely that number will increase by leaps and bounds by the time all is said and done. To give you an idea of the damage: The tiny island nation of Maldives is the lowest-lying country in the world (the average height of land is about three feet), and one of its islands, Kandolhudhoo (population 3,500), was completely immersed in water, making it entirely uninhabitable. Rescue workers are rushing to get things cleaned up for fear of epidemics of respiratory and waterborne diseases that could break out within the next couple of days.

Two Americas At the Movies

Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ and Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11 had three things in common: they were too long, they were carefully sold to specific markets and they made a lot of money at the box office. Unless you were a liberal Catholic mystic or a movie critic, however, it’s unlikely that you saw both films. To sum up: Gibson’s Biblical splatter film was a couple of hours of a man being flayed to death, with a soupçon of anti-Semitism for bad measure. To be fair, it was often moving. Moore’s polemic was a couple of hours of Moore beating on George W. Bush like a rented mule, with a soupçon of grisly Iraq war footage thrown in for good measure. To be fair, Moore made many, many excellent points. Final domestic box-office for Passion? $370 million. For Fahrenheit? $120 million. Anyone surprised Kerry lost?

“Opposite Year” grips America!

This past year provided a veritable cornucopia of linguistic contradictions aimed at winning over the hearts and minds of Americans to the current administration’s cause. Take, for instance, the “anti-Iraqi” forces that, for some reason, mainly target Americans in Iraq. And then there’s the “moral values” vote attributed to evangelical Christians, which enabled more federal money to be diverted towards abstinence-only sexual education curricula that, according to a recent federal study, violate that commandment against lying. Of course, you don’t need to take our word for it—turn on Fox News and hear it for yourself.

Gas, Grass or Ass

Hot off the wires: The Russian space agency has told NASA that beginning in 2006, the free ride is over. With the U.S. space shuttle fleet grounded, astronauts have been hitchin’ a ride to the International Space Station in old-school Russian Soyuz space capsules. Gratis. The cash-poor Russkies, however, say they can’t afford to haul us American freeloaders anymore, and it’s time to pay up. They also want us to get out of the way and allow tourist spaceflights to the station. Why not? If Bush thinks the free market should rule on Earth, why not in space?

Two steps forward two steps back

The week of Valentine’s Day, the country swooned, watching scores of deliriously happy same-sex couples emerge married from San Francisco’s City Hall. Various other officials followed suit on smaller scales, including New Paltz Mayor Jason West, and ministers and couples in many locales, including Albany, stepped up the requests for licenses. Legal same-sex weddings started quietly in Massachusetts. But then things turned less cheery. Courts invalidated all but the Massachusetts weddings. The absurd Constitutional amendment defining marriage as one man, one woman nearly made it to a vote, and the November elections saw a flurry of new state-level pre-emptive marriage discrimination provisions. Guess we just need to wait for a less squeamish generation to come of age.

Saint Ronald?

It was easy to like, even admire, Ronald Reagan personally. He had a tough childhood, and remade himself first as a credible film actor, and then as a politician. President Ronald Reagan, however, sucked. His administration funded right-wing death squads in Central America, transferred wealth from the poor and middle class to the rich, opposed sanctions on South Africa, tried to gut environmental regulations and declared, when it came to school lunches, that ketchup was a vegetable. So, while we were sorry when he passed away this year, we were even sorrier to note the universal praise for the now seemingly God-like Reagan. Put him on Mount Rushmore? Replace Franklin Roosevelt on the dime with his mug? Over our dead bodies.

57 Channels (And One Thing On)

Surely the crime was horrific—the killing of a pregnant woman, on Christmas Eve no less. But the fascination with the Scott Peterson case, and the accompanying wall-to-wall media coverage, leaves us a bit mystified. How and why does a nation of viewers become so invested in what is essentially a local murder case? Peterson’s not even a celebrity; he’s a former fertilizer salesman. And unless you watched every minute of the trial—as a juror would—what makes people feel so certain that Peterson was either innocent or guilty? Real life as spectacle is not-so-mildly disquieting. Especially when there’s real news to follow—like some war over in Iraq.

No word on whether she got a room with direct sunlight for her tomato seedlings

In March, Martha Stewart was convicted of conspiracy, obstruction of justice, and making false statements in the ImClone stock scandal. Though she could have postponed her five-month prison sentence until after her appeal, in September, she announced her decision to begin serving—which will get her back home (to five months of house arrest) just in time for spring planting. (But she has noticed something other than the décor—just recently she joined a long list of incarcerated celebs who have officially taken a stand for drug-law reform.)

Our climate, your climate

The United States further distanced itself from its neighbors—well, everyone except for Saudi Arabia—at the recent international conference on global warming held in Buenos Aires. The U.N. conference was a final opportunity to discuss next year’s implementation of the Kyoto Protocol (which the United States still hasn’t agreed to participate in). U.S. representatives at the conference insisted—among other things—that the phrase “climate change” be changed to “climate variability,” and that Saudi Arabia be compensated for lost revenue if the world’s oil consumption is reduced. Even though the United States produces nearly a quarter of the world’s total greenhouse gases, some government and scientific groups said that future environmental efforts might make better progress if the United States and Saudi Arabia were excluded from the discussion.

Even farther away than Canada

The movements and discoveries of the Mars robot Spirit captivated the attention of many in the early months of a year as it overcame physical obstacles and programming crises to send home the most detailed information about the Red Planet we’ve got to date—including intriguing information about the water content of the planet and whether it had ever been in liquid form on the surface. Evidence so far says it likely was, in spades. Who knows, maybe Martians are next?

www.underdog-story.com

Nonprofit software and advocacy group Mozilla set out to do the impossible this year, challenging Microsoft and the company’s Internet Explorer Web browser in the battle for the Web-surfing dominance. And recent reports indicate that this David and Goliath story might have a happy ending. Mozilla’s free Firefox browser, a combination of the computer code once used in Netscape Navigator and freely distributed code contributed by programmers around the world, currently counts more than 10 percent of all Internet users as converts, and its popularity is growing exponentially as word of the free browser’s improved security, privacy and user-friendly features gets around. If you haven’t checked it out yet, download it at www.mozilla.org.

FCC Gone Wild: Part One

In which Janet—Ms. Jackson, if you’re nasty—reveals that she is, in fact, for real. In the year’s most TiVo’d moment, January’s Superbowl halftime show ended in a “wardrobe malfunction” (we still get a chuckle out of that) that revealed Jackson’s right breast to approximately 140 million viewers. “It was just a titty,” some would say, but Michael Powell and his fine-happy cronies at the FCC were not amused. Even though parent company Viacom stood by their word that the incident was unplanned, CBS was handed a $550,000 fine for the boob shot. As a result, live television shows across the board implemented broadcast delays to avoid future incidents, effectively eliminating the concept of “live” television.

Stern jumps ship. Get it?
Stern jumps ship?

In our next installment of FCC Gone Wild, professional rabblerouser and longtime “decency” scapegoat Howard Stern goes head-to-head with the FCC and wins . . . or does he? Powell and company took to Stern hard this year, nailing him with huge fines for a show broadcast in—get this—2003. Clear Channel—big Bush supporters, by the way—responded by removing Stern’s morning show from six of its stations. Although the show returned to the airwaves in most markets (albeit with a lengthy delay), Stern surprised few when he wrapped the year by announcing a move to Sirius Satellite radio in 2006. Expect a plethora of zany “morning-zoo” programs to pop up in his absence, which should finally make morning radio completely unlistenable.

Girl You Know it’s True

Celebrity-by-familial-association Ashlee Simpson chose to play it safe, Milli Vanilli style, by using a “guide” track during an October appearance on Saturday Night Live. Hilarity ensued when the wrong track was played and Simpson’s disembodied voice began to pipe through the P.A. As her backing band attempted to play cover-up, a visibly embarrassed Simpson stormed off stage less than a minute into the song. She later blamed her band for playing the wrong song (not technically true), her handlers scrambled to pawn off the folly on acid-reflux disease (possibly true), and fans posted a flurry of messages on her Web site, threatening to disown her (if only it were true). Meanwhile, Simpson’s debut album Autobiography went triple-platinum in the United States, inducing acid-reflux in a whole generation of music fans.

Err America

It’s no secret that right-wing nutjobs have controlled the talk-radio airwaves for some time now, but then right-wing nutjobs are generally the kind of people who enjoy listening to blowhards like Michael Savage telling them what they already believe. Meanwhile, the lefties have had to settle for NPR and Amy Goodman all these years, but not anymore: This year saw the launch of Air America (inadvertently named after a lame early-’90s Mel Gibson vehicle), an all left-wing talk-radio network with more than 40 stations nationwide. While the station has pulled huge ratings in many markets, otherwise funny folks like Al Franken and Janeane Garofalo just came off as boring old cranks. At least arguing with Rush Limbaugh is fun.

We’ve got wood!

The woefully overlooked foreign-policy/Jerry Bruckheimer satire Team America: World Police hit theaters in October, but not quite as Trey Parker and Matt Stone had originally intended it. Days before the film’s release, Stone and Parker—creators of the irreverent South Park—were asked to cut more than a minute from an explicit sex scene to avoid the dreaded NC-17 rating. The catch? The film’s cast is entirely composed of puppets, which raises the question: If a tree falls in the forest, and that tree is carved into a puppet, and that puppet tosses another puppet’s salad . . . oh, never mind.

The Death of an Innocent

Though it technically happened last year, our year-end issue was put to bed minutes before the tragic shooting of 24-year-old passerby David Scaringe. Scaringe was walking across State Street at Lark in Albany’s Center Square when Albany police officers Joseph Gerace and William Bonanni opened fire on a car they were pursuing that was being driven by Daniel Reed of Delmar. Reed had pulled his car onto the sidewalk and gunned in reverse at the officers, who were on foot. When the cops started shooting at the car (against department policy) Reed escaped down State Street, but Scaringe was not so lucky. A bullet struck him as he walked, and he fell dead. The two officers in question were not charged.

A cop poor people like? Can’t have that

In January, Cmdr. Christian D’Alessandro was fired from the Albany Police Department. Residents of the neighborhoods he had been serving turned out en masse to protest his loss, and he has filed a lawsuit against the city. The turmoil over his firing brought all sorts of questions about APD use of funds, overtime, and policies to light. Though D’Alessandro didn’t get his job back, much-criticized Pubic Safety Commissioner John C. Nielsen, whose resignation was being called for by the newly formed Coalition for Accountable Police and Government, suddenly took a new job—in Haiti.

In Memory of John Finn

It’s not worth rehashing the bizarre, unfortunate circumstances of the shooting of Albany Police Lt. John Finn a year ago. It is worth remembering that he was loved by his family, and respected by his fellow officers. It’s worth honoring his distinguished record as an Albany cop, which included an Officer of the Year award in 2000, and two lifesaving awards. It’s worth contemplating his difficult, two-month-long fight for life, which ended on Feb. 12. Most of all, it’s worth commemorating the extraordinary memorial celebration held at the Pepsi Arena on Feb. 21, organized by his wife, Maura McNulty-Finn. Finn’s family, including young daughters Clara and Molly were there. Every Albany police officer, and thousands of officers from as far away as Maryland were there. The place was packed with local notables, from Bishop Howard Hubbard to scores of politicians to people from the community who knew and respected Finn as a police officer and as a man. There were speakers and music. It was sad, yes, but it was also a testament to Finn’s unifying effect on the department and the community. He is missed.

Just ducky

Former APD Chief Robert Wolfgang had a pretty stressful beginning of the year. But when he left to pursue other ventures—namely running amphibious “Aquaducks” tours of Albany—he seemed markedly happier, despite the chuckles. The vehicle and the honking (quacking?) of its riders’ duck whistles quickly became a familiar sight/sound on Albany’s streets. We’re still not certain what they’re saying about Metroland when they pass our offices, though. Did that sound like laughter to you?

The little candidate that was surly

Outgoing Albany County District Attorney Paul Clyne was not expecting any serious challenge from his former employee David Soares in the DA race. So for the primary he put up a few ads, and sat back, declining debates on the principle that Soares didn’t deserve a debate. When he got soundly trounced his campaign manager told the press that the people of Albany County “better wake up before Nov. 2.” It appears the voters still didn’t like the attitude come Nov. 2.

The little candidate that could

Working round the clock with the backing of devoted and incredibly diverse volunteers and the best minds of the state’s Working Families Party, David Soares got national attention by showing that voters really are interested in drug-law reform and crime prevention. After handily winning the primaries, he kept going through a vicious three-way race to become the second black DA in New York state.

Heads that big are easily bruised

In the midst of the tizzy that David Soares’ primary win threw Albany Democrats into, Mayor Jerry Jennings, the only Democrat not to hastily line up in Soares’ camp, let forth a protestation worthy to compete with “Bring ‘Em On”: “I’m the only important Democrat in this race,” he told the press. And gosh darn it, people like me.

Hey, I had a unprecedented win too!

Though overshadowed by David Soares’ dramatic campaign, local lawyer Margaret Walsh pulled off her own impressive and unusual campaign, running the first-ever Democratic primary for Family Court judge in Albany County, and winning a nice solid victory despite. Even in these strange days, it seems her opponent’s “A Family Man for Family Court” slogan still rang too creepily 1950s with the voters.

And you should have seen the T-shirt she was wearing

While under investigation by the New York State Commission on Judicial Conduct, Cheryl Coleman resigned her judgeship on the Albany City Court. Coleman had been criticized for questionable judgment on a number of occasions; the most damning incident occurred during and after a 2003 Bon Jovi concert in which she apparently instigated a fight with four women dancing in the aisles, and then improperly used her influence to have them arrested. Our sources tell us the commission also was investigating other allegations of bad judgment: that she had permed out her hair for the concert, and that she was playing air guitar and mouthing every song word-for-word.

Keeping the Dems honest

This was the year in which New York state’s labor- and left-friendly Working Families Party came into its own. Organized as a means to make the Democrats acknowledge and adopt a more progressive agenda, Working Families was instrumental in the election of Albany County D.A. David Soares. Plus, they succeeded in re-electing an Albany county legislator (Lucille McKnight) who had been spurned by her own party. What’s next—could it be the Albany Mayor’s office?

Any means to an uncertain end

Sexual abuse by priests remained a difficult topic on the national level, with settlement costs sending some dioceses into bankruptcy, and new stories about abusers shuffled to other jobs with kids still emerging. Locally, John Aretakis, lawyer for a group of victims, launched a media crusade against Bishop Howard Hubbard and several other priests, lobbing accusations (some that seem founded, many that don’t) of clandestine affairs with men and prostitutes as well as sexual abuse. A wildly expensive private investigation by high-powered lawyer Mary Jo White (hired by the diocese) cleared the bishop, and Aretakis himself is under investigation for unprofessional conduct. The people who are still being left out in the cold? The victims.

Too close for comfort

School shootings came to the Capital Region in February, when Jon Romano, a depressed, suicidal teenager took his birthday present—a shotgun—to school and fired it at students and teachers, wounding two before he was tackled. The event was traumatic, but nonetheless many people have spoken out against the plea bargain that recently handed Romano 20 years in prison, with no assurance of the mental health services he needs.

They still don’t get it

Even after a blistering audit by the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation—which documented mismanagement and raised questions of conflict of interest involving the board—the board of the troubled Saratoga Performing Arts Center seems to have taken a “What, us worry?” attitude. Board chairman Stephen Serlin has refused to discuss the grotesque, recently scuttled separation agreement with SPAC president Herb Chesbrough, and was quoted as saying that he hopes Herb’s wife Kathy, SPAC’s fund-raiser, remains in her job for “a long time.” (The audit questioned her duties and salary.) This is not progress.

They’re called “legal procedures” for a reason

Rensselaer County District Attorney Patricia DeAngelis wants to prove that, like a metal band, she’s meaner, tougher and harder than you. And, like a not-very-good metal band, she keeps undercutting her position and coming off as weak—where it counts. Twice in the last six months, appeals courts have cited her for prosecutorial misconduct. Twice, convictions of sex offenders have been reversed and the accused granted a new trial. DeAngelis better get her act together and follow accepted procedure, or her term in office will remembered as being as farcical as Spinal Tap.

Put up a parking lot

It’s been a great month of movies, hasn’t it, Schenectady? The Diamond Cinemas opened on time in November, and crowds of happy Schenectadians have been lining up along State Street to see Meet the Fockers and Ocean’s Twelve. Shops and restaurants have opened, and all is joyous. . . . Not. The Metroplex-backed deal to build the cinemas fell apart last spring, after the site was cleared. Too bad. On the bright side, Schenectady has another shovel-ready vacant lot!

We’re the best… around!

New York state legislators extended their 20-year streak of ineffectiveness this year, as the April 1 deadline for a state budget passed without any agreement between the Senate and Assembly. In doing so, New York continues to be head-and-shoulders above the rest of the nation when it comes to elected officials’ slackitude. Even after the two halves of the legislature announced an agreement on reforms to the budget process earlier this year, the necessary legislation has yet to be signed into law, making a continuation of New York’s dubious record likely next year.

I promise not to keep doing what I’ve been doing

For incumbents and challengers alike, government reform was the foundation of every New York state legislative campaign platform this year. After a study ranked New York’s state government as the nation’s most dysfunctional (no surprise there), legislators vowed to make everything better—as long as we voted them and their fellow party members back into office, that is. And for the most part, that’s what we did, with very few incumbents losing their seats. In fact, Colonie Assemblyman Robert Prentiss was one of the only local incumbents to become a casualty in the reform war. Oh, and since the election, many of those names on campaign signs have been conspicuously absent from reform legislation. What was that line about “fool me once?”

How to get ahead in New York State politics

While New York’s state legislators didn’t devote much effort to passing an on-time budget this year, their attention did seem focused on one part of their office—the internship program. An investigation into one Assemblyman’s booze-up with an underage intern in May prompted a flurry of reports from interns who said such activity was simply an unwritten rule in the “frat party” atmosphere of the Capitol. If that’s the case, is it any wonder why legislators want to stick around Albany as long as possible?

Thou shalt not leave the party

If you paid any attention to this year’s race between state Sen. Neil Breslin, a lifelong Democrat, and Albany County Comptroller Michael Conners, a recent Democrat-turned-Republican, you might think that the greatest evil a person can do in this world is to switch political parties. Instead of making the race a competition between campaign platforms, Breslin and fellow party members ripped Conners apart in television and radio ads for his decision to leave the Democratic Party—as if that decision was enough reason for voters to brand him unfit for elected office. In the end, lobbing the “flip-flop” accusation achieved the same effect locally as it did nationally—it helped win an election for the accusers, but sure made them look petty in the process.

The magical Wellington Hotel

Like the mythical town of Brigadoon, the Wellington Hotel seemed to suddenly appear before Albany city officials’ eyes in all its neglected glory this August. Despite the building’s close proximity to City Hall, it took a five-ton cornice dangling over State Street to make the building’s condition visible to city officials. Preservation groups rallied against Mayor Jerry Jennings’ initial demolition order and the city eventually back-tracked, shifting blame to the building’s absentee owner, Samuel Sebba, whose demolition application was soundly rejected by the city Historic Resources Commission last month. Looming over the entire saga is the possibility that the Wellington’s block of State Street may become the future home of the Albany Convention Center, a mayor-backed project that could only benefit from the sudden removal of the Wellington and surrounding structures.

If it’s a boy, we’re going with Pork Lo Mein!

Celebrities have a storied history of giving their children wacky names, dating back to Dweezil and Moon Unit Zappa. But that was Frank Zappa. This year’s crop of oddly monikered ankle-biters included an Apple (Gwyneth Paltrow and Coldplay’s Chris Martin), a Hazel (Julia Roberts) and a Phinneus (also Julia Roberts). By comparison, however, this was a relatively tame year, considering 2003 included such gems as Audio Science (actress Shannyn Sossamon) and Pilot Inspektor (Jason Lee). Perhaps the days of Michael, Mark, Elizabeth and Susan are soon to return.

We won! . . . Um . . . Whadda we do now?

Long-suffering fans of the Boston Red Sox were overjoyed at their team’s astounding playoff comeback against the Yankees and surprisingly easy World Series sweep of the Cardinals. But no sooner did the victory parade end than reports began to trickle out of Boston that some characteristically gloomy fans had already begun to wonder, now that they no longer had “The Curse” to fret over, where they would turn to find meaning in their lives.

It Ain’t Over Till Lord Stanley Weeps

The coolest game on Earth? Not this year—and who knows how much permanent damage the current lockout will do to the NHL, especially if the season is canceled and there is no Stanley Cup winner for the first time since influenza derailed the final between Montreal and Seattle back in 1919. The players blame the bargaining impasse on the team owners and Commissioner Gary Bettmann, but polls consistently show a wide majority of fans blaming the players for being too greedy and too unrealistic about what the league needs to do to keep 30 teams afloat.

Ron Artest, sports industry hero

Indiana Pacer Ron Artest did sports fans a favor last month when he filled the violence void created by the absence of a 2004 National Hockey League season. While sports analysts used the sort of terminology typically reserved for stories about mass genocide to describe Artest’s infamous brawl with Detroit Pistons players and fans, they seemed perfectly happy with the ratings boost the brawl created for the two teams’ rematch on Christmas Day. In fact, everyone involved with the brawl seems to have made a buck off it—kernels of popcorn allegedly thrown during the brawl sold for nearly $10 on eBay in recent weeks.

You go, girls

The “91ers”—Brandi Chastain, Joy Fawcett, Julie Foudy, Mia Hamm and Kristine Lilly—capped their brilliant careers on the U.S. women’s soccer team with a heartwarming gold-medal win at the Summer Olympics in Athens. Barely noticed by the media when they won the first-ever Women’s World Cup back in 1991, the five have anchored the team ever since, winning Olympic gold in 1996 and another World Cup in 1999. They eventually became media darlings almost by popular demand; more important, their success, sportsmanship (sportswomanship?) and relentlessly upbeat spirit were an inspiration—not just to young girls, but to athletes and fans everywhere.

If a tree falls in the Prada store . . .

Daily News gossip columnist Lloyd Grove has promised to never again write about Paris Hilton, claiming she offends “the American sense of fair play: the idea that you get ahead by working hard, playing by the rules and acquiring a skill of some sort.” Reached for comment in the kitchen of L’Ironic, a visibly shaken and panty-less Paris snorted back a quick bump, and gave a blow job to a 34-year-old film producer no one’s ever heard of.

Short people

On an island in Indonesia, archeologists discovered evidence of a tiny human species who lived alongside homo sapiens some 18, 000 years ago. Scientifically classified homo floresiensis, the little people were quickly labeled Hobbits, after the diminutive heroes of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings series. The hobbits grew no taller than the average modern three-year-old, had heads the size of grapefruits and hunted pygmy elephants. Though the discovery excited scientists and hardcore sword-and-sorcery geeks alike, creationists around the world nearly shit themselves.

More retired than a 18-wheeler after a tarmac full o’ tacks—or whatever

The folksiest of all recent anchorpeople, Dan Rather, announced his retirement this year. As did Tom Brokaw. But toward the end there—even with the journalistic lapses, even the Memogate scandal following Rather’s too-
credulous response to information about Pres. Bush’s National Guard service, even with the creepy feeling that watching Rather unwind on national TV was somehow like watching grandpa shower—we started to love the guy all over again. Courage, Dan—you sweet Texan nutjob, you.


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