Photos by Jack Gould (left)
and AP Wide WorldLooking back on the year just ending, the spookiest thing—eerier even than the Supreme Court playing Junta for a Day with the election—is how much President-elect George DUI Bush looks like Elian Gonzalez.
The look works on Elian. He's—what?—7 years old and has been through shipwreck and celebrity; he's supposedto appear big-eared and bewildered. But George II perpetually looks as if he forgot where he left his gym shorts.
Elian has faded from the public scene, if only temporarily, for he is blessed by the Virgin and will one day be the leader of a free Cuba, or at least bigger than Ricky Martin. Bush we will have with us for a while. Who knows what the year we look back on next year will hold? Who even knows what this year held? Hey, whose gym shorts are these!?
When Elvis sang, "Memories, pressed between the pages just like wine," he spoke for me, which is more than I can say. Before the inspired perfidies of the coming year drive all else from our minds, let us try to capture in these pages a few of the precious moments that made up the year 2000.
Here are some of my faves:
•Orange County starts the year on a high note, bulldozing one of its last namesake orange groves in Placentia to make way for a housing tract. New slogan: Get Plowed in Placentia! Meanwhile, typical home prices in the county have surged 9 percent in the past year to an average of $258,000.
•A National Research Council panel of scientists concludes that global warming is "undoubtedly real."
•The U.S. Supreme Court upholds citizens' right to sue environmental polluters, with Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas dissenting. In his brief, Scalia explains, "I suppose it's just because we hate all living things."
•It is reported in The Wall Street Journal that "intense media attention to the [flu] outbreak is being driven in large part by the energetic promotional efforts" of two drug firms marketing flu medicines.
•It is discovered that a secret arrangement exists between drug czar Barry McCaffery and TV networks, allowing him to essentially pre-censor programs and insert anti-drug messages. In exchange, he lets them play with his uvula.
•The New Majority Committee is formed by top OC businessmen, who announce they have raised $500,000 to elect moderate Republicans and to attempt to unseat conservative county GOP chairman Tom Fuentes, who disses them as "country club Republicans."
I really wasn't paying attention this month.
•The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reports that the winter that just ended was the warmest recorded in 105 years, with the two years previous being the next warmest.
•A newly designed Patriot missile program is $2.3 billion over budget. Other reported weapons program overruns tally an additional $4.9 billion.
•Four months into the year, OC beaches have already had as many pollution closures as in all of 1999.
•In a predawn raid that momentarily made Republicans act concerned about Americans' civil rights, Elian Gonzalez is retrieved from his Miami relatives and reunited with his father. "That's not America!" fumes Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), possibly while pointing at Canada. In the America his ilk have created, cops routinely make nighttime, SWAT-like raids on citizens' homes—often the wrong ones.
•Jesse Helms (R-Pluto), within a day of Bill Clinton's proposal to forge stronger arms-control agreements with Russia, vows to block any such agreement. Instead, Helms is backing an aggressive new "missile shield" program. Coincidentally, this same month, a panel of eminent U.S. scientists asserts that the $43 billion missile program, which doesn't, well, work, would be rendered useless by simple countermeasures if it did work, in which case it wouldn't, well, work. The $43 billion joins the $120 billion already spent since 1960 on questionable anti-missile systems.
•In utterly unrelated news, the Japanese Trade Ministry reports that it will impose military export controls on Sony's new Playstation 2 because its processing abilities could be used in missile guidance systems by, son of a bitch, the very rogue states that would be using countermeasures—and aluminum foil is a countermeasure—against our anti-missile system, if it weren't so much cheaper and easier for them just to sail a nuke-laden jolly boat into any of our welcoming harbors. Know how much smaller a nuke is than a bale of marijuana?
•The U.S. Supreme Court strikes down a federal measure that gave rape victims the right to sue their attackers. In drafting the ruling, Chief Justice William Rehnquist explains, "We don't want Al Gore to be able to use it as a defense when we rape him in December."
•Orange County Sheriff Mike Carona changes department policy to allow officers to carry large-caliber pistols so they won't be "outgunned" by street criminals.
•Remember the "missile shield"? Prominent voices in the U.S. intelligence community warn that implementing the program would prompt a new arms race and damage relations with European allies, proving that the missile shield does work if you're an arms manufacturer and the goal is a lucrative new cold war. Some of the same technology is also being touted by OC Congressman Dana Rohrabacher (R-Huntington Beach) as a shield against killer asteroids hitting the Earth, an event most scientists accord tremendously lower probability than global warming, which Rohrabacher calls a liberal fiction.
•Pixelon Corp., once such a dot-com darling that it spent $16 million for a bash in Las Vegas in 1999, hits on hard times when it is learned that company founder Michael Adam Fenne is really a convicted felon named David Kim Stanley who, as a con man, had been on Virginia's most-wanted list for three years.
•While home ownership is up across the U.S., it drops for the second straight year in OC, where many who work and live there simply can't afford a home.
•A study by Orange Coast College finds a 90 percent reduction in the quantity of sea organisms since 1975, with more than 100 species vanished from local tide pools altogether.
•According to the environmental group Pesticide Action Network, the use of "bad actor" pesticides (acute poisons, carcinogens, etc.) in OC has risen 51 percent between 1991 and 1998.
Hey, it was summertime.
•The Orange County Register announces a "customer bill of rights" with a money-back guarantee if you are unsatisfied with the accuracy or quality of the paper. As a result, many county residents are finally able to afford their own homes.
•Arthur Carmona, a county teen who lost two and a half years of his young life to jail and prison before his wrongful conviction was overturned this month, is warned not to screw up again by OC District Attorney Tony Rackauckas, essentially saying, "Don't try getting away with being an innocent victim of police and prosecutorial misconduct a second time."
•The record number of devastating forest fires that swept the country in the first half of the year may be a result of global-warming trends, experts warn.
•The University of California announces a new research study of the medicinal value of marijuana. Not to be outdone, the U.S. Supreme Court issues an emergency order barring Californians from providing medical marijuana to persons who are sick and in pain. While otherwise loath to interfere in states' rights, Scalia, in drafting the majority opinion, writes, "What the fuck do we care?"
•Meanwhile, scientists announce the efficacy of three microscopic fungi in strangling the vascular systems of marijuana, opium and coca plants. With U.S. drug officials pushing for its implementation in South America, some cranky ecologists wonder if the fungi will also decimate banana, cotton, bean, melon and other crucial crops. Well, let's find out!
•In his acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention in some city or other, nominee George DUI Bush announces, "I will work to reduce nuclear weapons and nuclear tension in the world to turn these years of influence into decades of peace." In his next two sentences, he promises to ignore "outdated treaties" and implement the "missile shield" that experts assure will raise global nuclear tensions.
•Offering dramatic proof of OC Sheriff Mike Carona and other county law-enforcement officials' contention that peace officers were being outgunned by criminals, undercover Anaheim police dressed as gang members, cruising in Fullerton while reportedly on a drug investigation, open fire on suspected actual gang members after the youths toss a pomegranate at them. Laugh if you like, but pomegranate juice really stains.
•A senior engineer whistle blower at defense giant TRW claims the company engaged in fraud and cover-up in faking test results for components of the "missile shield" program to gloss over design flaws that would render the program useless in any real-world scenario.
•Irvine-based Land Rover airs a touching new commercial in which a well-dressed couple drives their splendid Land Rover SUV through driving rain. A closeup on a pair of choice opera tickets reveals their destination. The couple, however, spot a drenched but otherwise upper-crust dog on the roadside as the emotive synthesizer music rises and Peter Gabriel—or someone so like him that he gets the blame—intones, "I can't close my eyes," and they come to the pooch's rescue. The message: even though your hulking vanity-vehicle purchase shows contempt for the safety of other motorists and hastens the ecological doom of the planet, you still have time for a feel-good gesture or two, unless of course you just thought you'd sell the dog to a lab.
•After more than 100 deaths attributed to Firestone tires, unidentified U.S. senators accede to lobbyists' demands and block a John McCain-penned auto-safety bill, prompting the Republican Arizona senator to declare, "The fix is in for the special interests."
•Clear Channel Communications, America's biggest radio conglomerate, is fined a mere $8,000 by the FCC for violating payola laws, which LA Times writer Chuck Philips rightly contrasts with the millions of dollars other networks are fined for airing "indecent" material. The moral: it's not okay to talk about whores, but you can sure be one.
•A United Nations-sponsored report by top climate scientists concludes that temperatures on the Earth might rise by as much as 11 degrees in this century due to man-made causes. Even the previously estimated top rise of 6 degrees would be devastating to life on this planet. If true—and these are the top experts in the field—human life may all but end in the next several decades. This story barely makes it onto the Times' front page (where the big news is a 25-cent cut in California's sales tax) and goes unreported on most broadcast news shows.
•An official British government report cites a "policy of sedition" in the government's previously misleading statements about the severity of mad cow disease to avert panic and protect beef exports. I'm betting that mad cow disease turns up stateside sometime in the next three years. Any takers?
•There was a presidential election early in the month, but they really needn't have bothered.
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•StarLink corn, which contains a genetically altered protein, keeps popping up where it shouldn't—in taco shells and other food products. The pest-repelling protein is considered a possible human allergen and is approved only for animal feed. StarLink maker Aventis CropScience responds to the potential problem by urging the USDA to fast-track reclassifying the corn for human consumption. Barring that, maybe they could get humans reclassified as cattle.
•U2 guitarist the Edge buys a $2 million house on the beach in Malibu, right on the edge of the United States. Committed to the plight of the downtrodden, the Edge announces he will only live there in an ironic sense.
•The United States Supreme Court, having previously discounted the value of the Constitution's equal- protection clause when it came to voting rights or a state's ability to execute Negroes willy-nilly, finds that it is just the ticket to send George DUI Bush careening into the White House. Explaining the ruling to court visitors the following day, Thomas says, "Sometimes a man's gotta do what a man's gotta do."