Sunday, December 31, 2000

Final accounting of an odd year




By Phil Fisher
The Cincinnati Enquirer

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        2000 was a year that counted. And recounted. And miscounted.

        Was it the new millennium or not? It depended on how you counted.

        The census counted as many Americans as it could (281,421,906, to be exact).

        And the presidential election raised questions about how we count votes, how we resolve disputes, the rule of law and even the meaning of majority rule.

        But 2000 counted in another sense, too. It counted because important things happened, because the world was changed, and because the year's events will have impact well beyond its conclusion tonight.

        Here, then, is a look back at turn-of-the-century America:

[photo] Election officials in Florida studied ballots to learn the voters' intent.
(Associated Press photos)
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        Why, oh, Y2K?: The year began with a countdown and a counting dispute. The celebrations around the world were big and colorful, though dampened a bit by Y2K computer worries. For the purists, though, tonight's the real turn of the millennium. So where are their big parties?

        The longest night: It was the oddest presidential election of our lifetime (unless you're 124 years old).

        There were lots of real issues, such as George W. Bush's tax-cut plan and Al Gore's prescription-drug plan. But there was also lots of trivia, such as Mr. Gore's switch to earth tones and Mr. Bush's verbal stumbles.

        At the summer conventions, Mr. Gore broke ground by picking Sen. Joseph Lieberman as the first Jew on a national ticket. Mr. Bush stuck with old reliable, choosing Dick Cheney, a longtime ally of his father's.

        Election Day showed America split right down the middle. The popular vote was within fractions of a percent; the Senate was 50-50, the House narrowly Republican.

        And to top it off, there was Florida. Millions of votes, a margin in the hundreds. Counting problems, recounting problems, punch cards that punched back, county-to-county rule changes, day-to-day rule changes. Florida's tourism industry suddenly was supplanted by the visiting-lawyers industry.

        So it ended in the courts. Florida's Supreme Court interpreted the law liberally, and asked for the intent of the voters. The U.S. Supreme Court interpreted conservatively, and the clock ran out with Mr. Bush the winner.

[photo] Hillary Rodham Clinton became a senator from New York.
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        Did the closeness show America deeply divided or bunched around the middle? Perhaps both. But there was no question the true believers on each end were angrier and more bitter. That will make bipartisanship, civility and rallying-around-the-winner harder to achieve and maintain.

        The re-formed party: Off to the side, Pat Buchanan won the nomination — and control — of Ross Perot's Reform Party. His 1 percent showing on Election Day may have eliminated him and the party as significant factors in the future.

        The new team: Republicans accused Al Gore of environmental extremism, but in his transition, Mr. Bush turned out to be the champion of recycling. For his key appointments he leaned heavily on those who had served under his father, under Ronald Reagan, even under Gerald Ford.

        In the upper house: Hillary Rodham Clinton won a Senate seat from New York, so the family will have a breadwinner. She faced down carpetbagging charges, didn't have to face New York mayor Rudoph Giuliani, who battled cancer, and defeated Rick Lazio.

        In Missouri, Gov. Mel Carnahan was killed in a plane crash while campaigning for the U.S. Senate. He won anyway. His wife will serve instead.

[photo] Federal agents seized Elian Gonzalez from the home of his Miami relatives.
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        Little boy lost: Two nations tugged over a little boy. Elian Gonzalez, plucked from the ocean where his mother died trying to bring him from Cuba to Florida, became the center of a political, legal and diplomatic battle. The removal from his relatives showed us the appalling picture of an immigration agent, weapon drawn, taking a child.

        Lost in it all was a little boy, who loved Disney World and American toys, but also his father. Seven months after he was rescued, he was returned to Cuba.

        Peace and war: There were breakthroughs of reconciliation and breakouts of bloodshed. The leaders of North and South Korea shook hands. President Clinton went to Vietnam. The Senate approved normal trading status for China.

[photo] A Palestinian father and his 12-year-old son are shot by Israeli soldiers.
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        Israel and the Palestinians seemed achingly close to a peace agreement. But a final answer seemed painfully unreachable.

        And then the violence exploded. Anger and intransigence took over both sides. Now the peace process seems like a fragile cup, dropped and shattered on the floor.

        Blind terror: Refueling in Aden harbor in Yemen, the destroyer USS Cole was approached by a small boat with two men aboard. The boat exploded, leaving a 40-by-40-foot hole in the hull at the waterline. The crew saved the ship from sinking, but 17 sailors were killed. Investigators suspected Osama bin Laden, but there were no claims of responsibility. The only message seemed to be, “Go away.”

        Who's left: Survival was a theme of the year. The summer TV show Survivor started with rats being eaten and ended with rattiness rewarded. In between, America was riveted. Cast Away cast Tom Hanks on a desert island. And shortly before Christmas, an AWOL airman was dug out an Oregon snowdrift after 16 days trapped in his car.

[photo] A Concorde supersonic jet crashed after takeoff in Paris.
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        But for the 118 crew members of the Russian submarine Kursk, there was no survival. Hopes were dashed when a slow-starting rescue effort ran out of time. Later, divers found in one sailor's pocket a note written after the explosion, but before the air ran out. Like the Barents Sea water, it was chilling.

        Sic transit: 2000 was a bad year for getting around. Crashes were the worst of it. But air travelers also were plagued by high prices, service problems, cancellations and delays, delays, delays.

        The tragedies were numerous: An Alaska Air jet went down off the California coast, killing 88. A Philippine Air crash killed 131. A Gulf Air Airbus went down in the Persian Gulf, killing 143.

        Most surprising, a Concorde supersonic jet crashed after takeoff in Paris, killing 114. It was the first crash of the elegant luxury jet in 24 years of service.

NOTABLE PASSINGS
    Among the famous who died in 2000:
    Charles Schulz, 77, creator of Charlie Brown and the Peanuts gang.
    Cardinal John O'Conner,
80, charming cleric who took strong stands on moral issues.
    Hafez Assad,
69, Syria's leader.
    Tom Landry,
75, Dallas Cowboys football coach.
    Sir John Gielgud,
96, rich-voiced actor.
    Sir Alec Guinness,
86, British actor of restraint and subtlety.
    Steve Allen,
78, comedian who invented the Tonight Show,.
    Pierre Elliott Trudeau,
80, flamboyant former prime minister of Canada.
    John V. Lindsay,
79, glamorous two-term mayor of New York.
    Hedy Lamarr,
86, sultry actress of the '30s and '40s.
    Craig Claiborne,
79, food writer.
    Dame Barbara Cartland,
98, prolific author and queen of romance fiction.
    Carl T. Rowan, 75, Commentator called America's “most visible black journalist.”
   Maurice “Rocket” Richard, 78, hockey superstar.
    Walter Matthau,
79, foghorn-voiced actor.
    Loretta Young,
87, elegant Hollywood beauty.
    Jason Robards Jr.,
78, actor.
    Victor Borge
, 91, Danish concert pianist and daffy comedian.
    Douglas Fairbanks Jr., 90. Rakishly handsome actor.
    Pham Van Dong, 94, Vietnam prime minister through three decades of war and peace.
    Jeff MacNelly, 52, three-time Pulitzer Prize winner for his editorial cartoons.
        But a greater loss of life wasn't even on a plane. It was the 155 skiers and snowboarders killed when an Austrian cable car caught fire in a mountain tunnel.

        And in a piece-by-piece crash, almost 150 deaths were linked to defective Bridgestone/Firestone tires, mostly on Ford Explorers.

        Blood on the floor: After two years of school massacres, the spasm of schoolyard violence seemed to calm. But multiple slayings struck in workplaces and in homes.

        Gunmen killed six in a robbery at a Wendy's restaurant in Queens, N.Y. A white man from suburban Pittsburgh killed five people in a racially motivated attack. In the last week, a worker killed seven at his Massachusetts company, and masked men killed seven in a run-down Philadelphia house.

        Justice and injustice: The death penalty, which had become increasingly routine, suddenly faced tougher public questions. A series of discoveries of inmates wrongly convicted of murder led the governor of Illinois to declare a moratorium on executions. Other states joined him in studying their procedures. And George W. Bush faced questions about his record in Texas, by far the executing-est state.

        Wen Ho Lee, a physicist suspected of mishandling nuclear secrets, was held in jail without bail for nine months, before the government admitted it had little evidence. A Florida jury ordered tobacco companies to pay $145 billion to smokers.

        Michael Skakel, a Kennedy cousin, was accused of a 1975 murder, when he was 15. A crucial issue is whether he should be charged as the adult he is now, or the juvenile he was then. The case was eerily parallel to the even older Cincinnati case of Michael Wehrung.

        Ballots at work: Outside of Florida, the ballot was democracy's most powerful weapon. Boris Yeltsin's successor, Vladimir Putin, won an election in Russia's first democratic transfer of power. Yugoslavian voters booted out Slobodan Milosevic, then marched on Parliament to make sure he really went. Mexican voters picked Vicente Fox, the first non-PRI candidate elected president. Canada re-elected Jean Chretien.

        Burn, forest, burn: The worst wildfire in New Mexico history was intentionally set — by National Park Service workers trying to clear brush.

        Science and medicine: In an astonishing and important feat, the human genome code was cracked — twice. The Food and Drug Administration approved the morning-after pill, RU-486. Mad cow panic returned to Europe. Genetically altered corn made its way onto supermarket shelves, where it wasn't supposed to be.

        Three astronauts became the first tenants of the new international space station. An asteroid was headed right at us; then it wasn't. Scientists made light go faster than light — no, really.

        Strange stuff: For sheer, tawdry, how-low-can-they-go weirdness, it was hard to beat Who Wants to Marry a Multimillionaire? But the oddities go on: Katie Couric showed her colonoscopy. Dennis Miller ranted his way onto Monday Night Football. Prince changed his name to Prince. Bobby Knight melted down. The Pets.com Sock Puppet passed on. And George W. Bush called a New York Times reporter “world-class as a whole,” or something like that.

        Woof, woof: And let's not forget the animals: At Paramount's Kings Island, The Beast became a proud papa. A tyrannosaurus rex named Sue found a new home in Chicago. On Broadway, Cats closed. In pop music, someone let the dogs out — over and over.

        Alternatives: A poll found that Russians rated Lenin their man of the century — right ahead of Stalin. For so many better choices, Americans can count and recount our blessings.

   



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