Looking Back

New Years Eve here in Hollywood was quiet this year. It was quiet everywhere, as in Economy Puts Damper on New Year’s Eve Celebrations, the Associated Press noting that things were tough all over:


Public celebrations were canceled in communities from Louisville, Ky., to Reno, Nev., and promoters in Miami Beach, Fla., reported slower ticket sales than expected for celebrity-studded parties that they say would have sold out in past years.


It seems few wanted to ring in the New Year with young Lindsey Lohan, or at least few were willing to shell out thousands of dollars for that privilege.


And it wasn’t just us:


Around the world, people paused for a deep breath and a sip of … perhaps something cheaper than champagne.


“We’re not going to celebrate in a big way. We’re being careful,” said architect Moussa Siham, 24, as shoppers in the affluent area west of Paris were scaling back purchases for the traditional New Year’s Eve feast.


So the big dinner at home in Paris was scaled back, which is fine, because the restaurants were being ridiculous.


And here in Hollywood:


The beat is slowing on the Sunset Strip, muffled by a less-than-festive economy. For the first time in years, clubs in this night-life mecca on Sunset Boulevard and nearby will be ringing in 2009 on Wednesday by slashing cover charges or offering special incentives, such as open bars and free hors d’oeuvres. A night out on New Year’s Eve will still cost a premium, of course, but many club operators say they are purposely keeping a lid on prices even though they might be able to charge more.


It’s the times:


Clubs also struggled after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, but the Viper Room’s Berghammer said the current downturn looks to be worse because of the competitive environment and the projected length of the recession.


For months, club goers have been showing up earlier and staying later to maximize the value of their cover charge instead of bouncing from club to club throughout the night, he said. Instead of splitting bottle service among four people, the cost is now shared among many more.


It’s quite a contrast from just a few years ago, Berghammer said, when high rollers thought nothing of dropping $30,000 a night on table service and clubs could get $750 for a bottle of Grey Goose vodka (which sells in stores for about $30).


Times are tough all over.


But some things don’t change – because they’re free. That would be the year end lists, like CNN’s From Obama-Mania to Palin Power: 2008’s Top Political Stories or Fox News’ Top Ten Dumbest Criminals of 2008 or Foreign Policy’s Ten Worst Predictions of 2008, with, among others, this one:


“I believe the banking system has been stabilized. No one is asking themselves anymore, is there some major institution that might fail and that we would not be able to do anything about it.” – Henry Paulson on National Public Radio, Nov. 13, 2008


Of course this one isn’t bad either:


“If Hillary Clinton gets a race against John Edwards and Barack Obama, she’s going to be the nominee. Gore is the only threat to her, then. … Barack Obama is not going to beat Hillary Clinton in a single Democratic primary. I’ll predict that right now.” – William Kristol, Fox News Sunday, Dec. 17, 2006


Of course Kristol was wrong. He almost always is. But in American Prospect, Ezra Klein here says being right isn’t his job, really:


Political scientists have studied pundit predictions and found them to be, on the overall, inaccurate. Indeed, the effect gets stronger as the pundit becomes more popular: “the better known the pundit, the less accurate his or her forecasts.”


But all this suggests that political punditry has something to do with accuracy. It doesn’t. It’s entertainment. Just like people who like sports want to be able to watch TV shows about sports and people who like women in bikinis want to be able to watch TV shows about women in bikinis, people who like politics want to be able to watch TV shows about politics. The pundits exist to fill that need. Their role is to make those shows entertaining, so the shows have good ratings, so they can sell time for advertisers, so they can make a profit for networks.


Steve Benen says that sounds about right, but he doesn’t like it:


Using Ezra’s analogy, imagine a sports commentator whose predictions are always wrong, whose rumors never pan out, and whose observations aren’t based on reality. After a while, one would hope, the audience would stop taking that commentator seriously, and he/she would go away.


But that rarely happens with political pundits. It’s annoying.


Well, that rarely happens with sports commentators either. Think of the late Howard Cosell.


But it is annoying. And as much as end-of-the-year lists are about what is fascinating or wonderful, they are more often about what is really, really annoying. One thinks of the words of Noel Coward – “I like long walks, especially when they are taken by people who annoy me.” Many of the year-end lists name those who should just take a hike.


Michael Tomasky is editor of Guardian America, the American edition of the Guardian (UK) and he has the list of this sort that is being circulated most widely – Welcome to America’s Hall of Shame.


The framing is the new, versus the old:


We made history in electing an African-American president. I and 67 million of my fellow citizens brought the era of conservative dominance to a thundering close. For those of us who’ve been told for eight years that we weren’t real Americans – liberals, urbanites, non-believers, cabernet-sippers, same-sex lovers, anti-war-mongerers, Volvo drivers – well, the tables have turned. We’re the real Americans now.


But ill winds still blew, and blow, across the republic. It being the duty of journalism to take the measure of these winds, I hereby dedicate my year-end column to ranking some of the worst Americans of the year.


He was going to do the ten worst Americans of the year but things got out of hand, and he ended up with nineteen.


And at nineteen he places Fox News’ E. D. Hill:


Ms Hill is the Fox News anchor who referred to Barack and Michelle Obama’s on-stage fist bump in early June as a “terrorist fist jab.” I guess she’s well familiar with the various and sundry ways in which couples express intimacy – she’s been married three times herself. Fox announced in November that it wasn’t renewing her contract.


Of course he covers Joe the Plumber (Samuel Joseph Wurzelbacher) – obvious stuff – but he reminds us of John Edwards:


How could a person run for president knowing that he’d cheated on his cancer-stricken wife with a woman who subsequently bore a child? (He denies paternity.) What if he’d actually won the nomination, and then this news came out? He gives bad judgment a bad name.


And he’s not fond of Geraldine Ferraro, but he’s even less fond of Sam Zell:


Yes, market forces and technology are putting the American newspaper on life support, but that doesn’t mean that the man who bought the Chicago Tribune and the Los Angeles Times should stroll into the intensive-care unit and pull the plug. Zell’s belief that productivity should be measured purely by word output is a death knell for intensive, investigative work that uncovers corruption.


And of course there is David Addington and the executives at AIG, and of course, Addington’s boss, Dick Cheney:


Just because. If he lives to be 99 – and he’s not as old as he looks: can you believe, for instance, that he’s younger than Ringo? – and I’m still doing this column, something tells me he’ll always find his way on the list. It’ll take that long to undo the damage he’s done to flag and country.


And there’s Steve Schmidt:


John McCain didn’t make the list, but his chief campaign strategist has earned an indisputable spot. He displayed a rare combination of incompetence, tone-deafness and cynicism. He’s only as low as number eight because it didn’t work.


Joe Lieberman is on the list too, as Rod Blagojevich (of course) and George Bush, at number three:


There were years when he would have been higher – 2000, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 and 2007. I’ll give him a slight pass for 2001, what with the attacks and all that. In those previous years, he stole an election, started an unnecessary war, lied about it, approved torture, let a great US city drown and so on. This year he merely presided over the bankruptcy of the global economy. Twenty days and counting.


At two is Sarah Palin:


Does she really deserve to be this high? Never in my adult lifetime has one politician so perfectly embodied everything that is malign about my country: the proto-fascist nativism, the know-nothingism, the utterly cavalier lack of knowledge about the actual principles on which the country was founded. So, heck, you betcha she does!


That leaves the top spot on this Shame List, and that had to be Bernard Madoff:


It’s pronounced “made-off.” Could Dickens have named him better? Bilking people and institutions out of $50bn is a pretty surefire way to make yourself No 1 with a bullet on anyone’s year-end bad guys’ list.


Steve Benen loves the list, but would add more names:


Rudy Giuliani – His campaign hackery, before and after his own candidacy, continues to offend. His convention speech, accusing Obama of being “cosmopolitan,” was so painfully stupid, it’s hard to forget.


Bill Kristol – Dollar for dollar, the worst newspaper columnist in America was a constant source of predictable drivel and misguided predictions.


Phil Gramm – Not only did Gramm’s policies help create the financial nightmare, but he mocked Americans’ pain, calling us a “nation of whiners.” That he was a leading candidate to be the Treasury Secretary in McCain’s administration continues to send shivers down my spine.


Paul Broun – The Republican congressman from Georgia argued, publicly and on the record, that Barack Obama reminded him of Adolf Hitler. …


And I think Ashley Todd probably belongs in the mix of the year’s worst Americans. Her self-mutilation/racist/sexual-assault story was the year’s most offensive stunt.


Are we forgetting anyone?


Well, perhaps we are. Elsewhere there are the nominees for the 2008 Golden Winger Wank of Year, and among those nominees is Pam Atlas carefully making the case that Malcolm X was Barack Obama’s father – it wasn’t the fellow from Kenya. Barack Obama is the illegitimate child of Malcolm X – lots of Google and lots of imagination and you see it could be so. The rest of the list is amusing – the folks on the right got weird last year.


Peter Brown of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute has a piece in the Wall Street Journal calling for a counterpart to Time’s “Person of the Year” award – a “Bumbler of the Year.” That would be for the person who had everything going reasonably well in their quest for fame, fortune or power, and then managed to screw it all up, all on their very own. Peter Brown says Hillary Clinton should win that. At Hot Air, Ed Morrissey disagrees – better Rod Blagojevich, Hugo Chavez or Elliot Spitzer.


This is a matter of very personal opinion, as David Neiwert explains here:


Well, there’s little doubt about Blago and Spitzer and Chavez all bumbling to varying degrees, the first two especially. Hillary, on the other hand, did indeed wind up looking the bumbler, but that was largely due to the contrast to Obama’s extraordinary competence.


As it happens, Obama left his tracks even more indelibly down the backs of Republicans this year. If you want to find bumblers, you might want to look there first.


Indeed, all these ostensible “liberal” bumblers (Chavez does not qualify) were mere pikers – more in the way of mediocrities – compared to the right-wing bumblers on parade this year.


He suggests you simply look as Sarah Palin, John McCain and George W. Bush:


Palin: Who can forget the painful Charlie Gibson and Katie Couric interviews? The visit to the turkey farm? The Perky Conservabot debate with Joe Biden? And the best thing about Palin is that she’s the GOP’s Great White Hope for 2012.


McCain: The list of mistakes is endless, from the “suspension” of his campaign just prior to the first debate to the insistence that “the fundamentals of the economy are strong” to his selection of Palin as his running mate. And those were just the big mistakes. It seemed as though every day, McCain’s campaign was trying to recover from some fresh gaffe or tactical blunder. It’s a credit to the power of Kool-Aid that he was able to win any states at all.


George W. Bush: The economy, stupid. ‘Nuff said. Without doubt, the biggest and most consequential blunderer of them all.


Neiwert seems to think Obama can make anyone look inadequate, but the folks on the right really didn’t need that very much help.


You could go on and on with this sort of thing – kicking the Republicans when they’re down – or you could be nonpartisan in your scorn, or inclusive, or fair and balanced.


The humorist Dave Barry is good at that. See his annual month-by-month year in review – 4,282 words, all worth considering.


And consider the opening:


How weird a year was it?


Here’s how weird:


O. J. actually got convicted of something.


Gasoline hit $4 a gallon – and those were the good times.


On several occasions, Saturday Night Live was funny.


There were a few days there in October when you could not completely rule out the possibility that the next Treasury Secretary would be Joe the Plumber.


Finally, and most weirdly, for the first time in history, the voters elected a president who — despite the skeptics who said such a thing would never happen in the United States — was neither a Bush NOR a Clinton.


Of course the devil is in the details as in February, “when, amid much fanfare, Congress passes, and President Bush signs, an ”economic stimulus package” under which the federal government will give taxpayers back several hundred dollars apiece of their own money, the idea being that they will use this money to revive the U.S. economy by buying TV sets that were made in China. This will seem much more comical in the fall.”


And there was March:


In politics, Barack Obama addresses the issue of why, in his 20 years of membership in Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago, he failed to notice that the pastor, Jeremiah Wright, is a racist lunatic. In a major televised address widely hailed for its brilliance, Obama explains that … Okay, nobody really remembers what the actual explanation was. But everybody agrees it was mesmerizing.


Obama’s opponent, Hillary Clinton, gets into a controversy of her own when she claims that, as first lady, she landed in Bosnia ”under sniper fire.” News outlets quickly locate archive video showing that she was in fact greeted with a welcoming ceremony featuring an 8-year-old girl reading a poem. Clinton’s campaign releases a statement pointing out that it was “a pretty long poem.”


And there was August:


Barack Obama, continuing to shake up the establishment, selects as his running mate Joe Biden, a tireless fighter for change since he was first elected to the U.S. Senate in 1849. The Democratic Party gathers in Denver to formally nominate Obama, who descends from his Fortress of Solitude to mesmerize the adoring crowd with an acceptance speech objectively described by The New York Times as “comparable to the Gettysburg Address, only way better.”


Meanwhile John McCain, still searching for the perfect running mate, tells his top aides in a conference call that he wants ”someone who is capable of filling my shoes.” Unfortunately, he is speaking into the wrong end of his cellular phone, and his aides think he said ”someone who is capable of killing a moose.” Shortly thereafter McCain stuns the world, and possibly himself, by selecting Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, a no-nonsense hockey mom with roughly 114 children named after random nouns such as “Hamper.”


And there was November:


Barack Obama, in a historic triumph, becomes the nation’s first black president since the second season of 24, setting off an ecstatically joyful and boisterous all-night celebration that at times threatens to spill out of The New York Times newsroom. Obama, following through on his promise to bring change to Washington, quickly begins assembling an administration consisting of a diverse group of renegade outsiders, ranging all the way from lawyers who attended Ivy League schools and then worked in the Clinton administration to lawyers who attended entirely different Ivy League schools and then worked in the Clinton administration.


But the hopeful mood is dampened by grim economic news. The stock market plummets farther as investors realize that the only thing that had been keeping the economy afloat was the millions of dollars spent daily on TV commercials for presidential candidates explaining how they would fix the economy. As it becomes increasingly clear that the federal government’s plan of giving hundreds of billions of dollars to dysfunctional companies has not fixed the problem, the government comes up with a bold new plan: give more hundreds of billions of dollars to dysfunctional companies. Soon the government is in a bailout frenzy, handing out money left and right, at one point accidentally giving $14 billion to a man delivering a Domino’s pizza to the Treasury building.


And so it goes.


It’s a good thing the year is over – no more looking back.



About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
This entry was posted in Year in Review: 2008, Year-End Lists. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Looking Back

  1. Pingback: The World Question « Just Above Sunset

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