Sunday, December 28, 2008

Goodbye to the absurdity of 2008




Goodbye to the absurdity of 2008
TheStar.com - News -

RAFFI ANDERIAN
December 28, 2008
Lynda Hurst
FEATURE WRITER

Well, thank God that's over.

As prisoner No. 18330-424 (C. Black) might say, it's been a farrago of a year, a cornucopia of the diabolical, the excruciating and the interminable. Worse than a Saturday afternoon at Ikea. That bad.

Still.

It was the beginning of the end for Dubya. We may have needed an Enigma machine to decipher him, but his sense of occasion was always impressive, and 2008 was no different.

"Thank you, Your Holiness. Awesome speech," he assured Pope Benedict at the White House in April. "Yo Harper," he greeted our leader, Steve, at the G8 summit in Japan.

Mindful of his legacy, if a stranger to shame, Dubya told an Israeli reporter he "can predict that historians will say that George W. Bush recognized the threats of the 21st century, clearly defined them, and had great faith in the capacity of liberty to transform hopelessness to hope."

Or the other way round.

Adieu as well to Liberal Leader Stéphane Dion and his impenetrable sense of self-esteem. "I love being the underdog," he boasted. "I love being underestimated." Practice will do that.

Trouble was, Dion didn't do much for the country's self-esteem. On the challenges to Canada's Arctic sovereignty, for example, he off-puttingly noted that "we cannot win against the Americans. We cannot win against the Russians. And we are too civilized to shoot the Danes."

Perhaps that's really why U.S. talk-show host Craig Ferguson, a Scot, chose not to immigrate to Canada, though he said it was because "the U.S. is the party and Canada is the apartment above, saying keep the noise down."

Put a sock in it, Craig.

After all, the Canadian space-time continuum featured a non-stop thriller of an election this year, an almost coalition, a suspension of Parliament – and a Tory insider explaining why Harper keeps such tight reins on his MPs: "Part of the control mentality comes from having a caucus with orangutans in it."

But generally, we had to get our political pleasures vicariously, chiefly via the spectacular rise of the spectacular Barack Obama: "Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time," he said. "We are the ones we've been waiting for. We are the change that we seek."

Not letting the French smoke where they want, however, is an unsought change, more "a total and utter catastrophe," hissed Parisian café owner Chantal Boucher when a ban on smoking in bars and restaurants took effect on Jan. 1. Relax, Madame, and use your imagination, like the Minnesotans. Their new law exempted theatres, so several bars duly became "theatres," with staff and customers as cast and ashtrays as props. Asked why the "cast" was just sitting around smokin' and drinkin', one barkeep explained: "They're playing themselves before the smoking law. We call the production Before the Ban."

Several dozen people reported seeing a UFO with bright lights flying low and fast over Stephenville, Tex., in January. Some reported fighter jets chasing it.

"You hear about big bass or big buck in the area, but this is a different deal," surmised local Ricky Sorrells. "It feels good to hear that other people saw something because that means I'm not crazy." Not necessarily, Ricky.

A series of shootings in Toronto's Entertainment District led to an other-worldish attempt by Councillor Adam Vaughan to allay citizens' concerns: "There's a light at the end of the tunnel. And it's not a strobe light coming from the next club, but a better tomorrow."

Or, of course, an oncoming train.

Speaking of which, after somehow winning back Italy's presidency, the extraordinary Silvio (no thought unspoken) Berlusconi was as eccentric as ever, appointing a former topless model who opposes gay couplings as equal opportunities minister. He also praised newly elected Obama as "handsome, young and tanned" and, when clobbered by embarrassed Italians, insisted he'd meant "tanned" as a compliment.

Actually, one wonders if it's his wife, Veronica, who's barking. For the second year running, she wrote to a Rome newspaper after it reported Silvio had told several women at a party, "If I wasn't married, I would marry you straight away."

This was a "declaration that I see as damaging to my dignity and cannot be treated as just a joke. I am asking for a public apology as I have not received one in private."

Just get a billboard, Veronica. And leave it up.

Meanwhile, France's ambitious new president, Nicolas Sarkozy – scarcely Adonis, but with a certain diminutive charm – pulled off a considerable political PR coup by marrying the beauteous ex-model and sometime singer Carla Bruni, who was immediately hailed as the next Jackie Kennedy. She wasn't there, however, during Obama's lightning visit to Paris in July, "which disappointed all my staff," the golden one admitted. Meeting Carla "was the only thing they were really interested in."

Alas, Miles Kington, the Brit who popularized franglais back in the '70s, joined the choir invisible this year. Use as many French words as you can, Kington advised tourists, fill in the rest with English, then say the lot with absolute conviction.

Saluting his passing, writer Karl Mamer noted that when many Anglo-Canadians visit Quebec, they offer franglais as a kind of peace offering: "Look, I'm going to try speaking as much French as possible, showing you I'm making a sufficient effort, then (would) you please switch to your fluent English as soon as I've linguistically self-flagellated myself before you."

The market meltdown and accelerating recession may not have hit the West until this fall, but one Wall Street broker saw it coming in 2003, and quit to become a monk. In Bulgaria. As one does.

Now a quasi-humanitarian and apparent amnesiac, Brother Nikanor had this to say about the rest of us: "It is right to see people who consume more than they deserve shattered by a financial crisis ... to suffer so that they can become more reasonable."

That doesn't always work. To wit, disgraced media mogul Conrad Black began his six-year jail sentence, but not before issuing a characteristic missive: "They will have their fleeting moment of brutish triumph. A moron who actually seriously looks at this case sees that it is a crock and I expect it will ultimately be determined to be so." Or not, Lord B, or not.

Still on the audacity front, Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe had the gall to show up at the Rome world food crisis summit in June: "This," snapped a U.K. official, "is like Pol Pot going to a human rights conference."

Former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic was finally caught in July and charged with war crimes, including genocide. On his first day in court, he said he would represent himself with the aid of "an invisible adviser." To deal, presumably, with the invisible evidence in his defence.

In a year replete with free-flying insults, Hillary Clinton suffered sexist attacks for crying – she teared up – tearing up early in her campaign. What she was saying when she did: "I have had so many opportunities from this country, I just don't want us to fall backwards. This is very personal for me. It's not just political. It's not just public. ... I see what's happening. And we have to reverse it." Such a girl.

But husband Bill got his, too. Writer Todd Purdom monstered his "cavernous narcissism" in Vanity Fair: "He is the bride at every wedding and the corpse at every funeral he attends."

After U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi attacked China's crackdown on Tibet, Beijing officials responded by calling her "habitually bad-tempered." Like they should talk.

In his review of the admittedly ludicrous Sex and the City, the 122-year-old New York Post movie critic Rex Reed felt moved to write that "there's nothing wrong with Sarah Jessica Parker that couldn't be cured by wart-removal surgery."

In sentencing three women to jail for mugging a man and stealing his wallet, an English judge gratuitously called them "a bunch of over-the-hill slappers." They're only in their 30s, sniffed an aggrieved friend.

Even Britain's poet laureate, Andrew Motion, was in a grumpy mood, saying the role was "very, very damaging to my work. It's been a hiding to nothing."

Don't know what he can mean, given that the job consists mainly of poeticizing royal events. He had Prince Philip to work with, for a start. Visiting Slovenia last month, the Duke of Edinburgh advised the locals not to encourage tourism because it's "just national prostitution." And what about an aide's update on Prince Chulls who turned 60? "He is ever more fussy, ratty and irascible."

Or the handwritten note from the Queen Mother to her "backstairs page" that was auctioned in the summer: "I think I will take two small bottles of Dubonnet and gin with me this morning, in case it is needed."

It was always needed.
She lived to be 102.
The note sold for $30,000.

There, Mr. Motion, is a haiku (of sorts). Easy.

Prince Harry's undisclosed tour of duty in Afghanistan was cut short when the Drudge Report broke a news blockade inexplicably adhered to by the U.K. tabs. Harry was forgiving: "All my wishes have come true. It's very nice to be sort of a normal person for once. I think it's about as normal as I'm going to get."

But what, Harry, is normal these days?

"If you're in a family with two animals and they want to unite in a wedding, it is not a sign of the apocalypse," said U.S. pet counsellor-cum-chaplain Rev. Shirley Scott. Chicago Tribune columnist John Kass's reaction: "Remember when Americans were asking why Islamo-fascists hate us so much? Now you know."

The U.K.'s stodgy, taciturn PM, Gordon Brown, said it was "absolutely correct" to compare him to Heathcliff, the passionate anti-hero of Wuthering Heights, although "an older Heathcliff, a wiser Heathcliff." No, Gordon, not even close.

Six months before they split, Madonna spoke of her "amazing" sex life with husband Guy Ritchie: "We lie right next to each other with our BlackBerrys under our pillows. It's not unromantic ... I'm sure loads of couples have their BlackBerrys in bed with them." No, Madge, not actually in the bed.

Remembrance of things mercifully past can't avoid would-be Republican VP, Alaska Governor Sarah Palin.

Her view on foreign policy, for example, was semi-articulated to ABC's Charles Gibson: "We must not, Charlie, blink, because, Charlie, as I've said, Charlie, before, John McCain has said that – and remember here, Charlie, we're talking about John McCain who, Charlie, is John McCain and I won't be blinking, Charlie."

As for ratcheting up war: "Nuclear weaponry, of course, would be the be-all, end-all of just too many people in too many parts of our planet." Well, not too much of the be-all, mostly the end-all.

When Palin called him a dictator, Venezuela President Hugo Chavez, no mean speechifier himself, responded: " ... The poor thing, you have to feel sorry for her. She is a beauty queen that they've put in the role of a figurine. Forgive her, for she knows not what she says." Figurine?

The day after Obama's victory, the huge demand for newspapers inspired a poignant New York Times editorial: "That long, patient line of New Yorkers was a little flame of comfort to warm a newspaper person's troubled heart. People like to say that print is a withering industry ... But for crying out loud, when something big happens, don't you miss the paper?"

But never mind, never mind. Let's draw a veil over 2008 before we all lose the will to live, and enter 2009 as optimists, low-flying to be sure, but ascendant nonetheless.

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