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2009: Time to Laugh It Off

December 23, 2009

I am sure you have noticed a decided departure from the usual gloom and doom in this week’s contributions to Even when they seem otherwise inappropriate in the circumstances, laughter and humor serve as powerful analgesics. If only they could inoculate us from pain altogether!

As we prepare to close the books on a spectacularly dour year, it’s worth noting that plenty of things have happened, which in retrospect, should have made us laugh if only to keep us from crying. Here’s my Top 10 list, with apologies to David Letterman:

10. Tareq and Michaele Salahi tested the White House policy of openness by inviting themselves to a state dinner in honor of Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, which once again proved it’s not what you know that’s important, it’s how desperate you are to get your own reality television show.

9.  In a spectacular demonstration of democracy-in-action, the Afghan people held an election the likes of which made people inChicago and Florida proud of our country’s efforts there. Meanwhile, in a display of grassroots activism reminiscent of Tiananmen Square, the people of the Islamic Republic of Iran displayed the kind of technological savvy usually reserved for voting for American Idol finalists or regaling friends with news about what you’re having for dinner to muster a succession of impressive flashmobs that displayed their general displeasure with the outcome of the election that returned Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to power there.

8.  Delegates from more than 190 nations met in Copenhagen to forge a global agreement curbing human activities that contribute to climate change; in the end, their success was marked by a communiqué outlining their commitments to offset the carbon emissions from their lengthy discussions by producing a succinct and largely unimpressive agreement the printing of which will produce virtually no impact on the world’s forests.

7.  In an act of irony (absent the taint of cynicism, but nevertheless displaying a deep sense of humility), the likes of which would have made Gen. Curtis “Peace Is Our Profession” LeMay either immensely proud or insanely jealous, Commander-in-Chief Barack Obama accepted the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo, Norway just days after committing tens of thousands more American troops to the war in Afghanistan.

6.  American forces, largely through the successful deployment of Predator and Reaper drones, managed to kill several top al Qaeda and Afghan Taliban operatives despite a startling security deficiency that broadcast unencrypted footage of their surveillance and targeting activities along with hundreds of Three’s Company, Baywatch, and Knight Rider reruns to anyone on the ground with aYouTube or Hulu account.

5.  Amidst speculation about a potential succession crisis and rising tensions surrounding his hermitic country’s nuclear ambitions, North Korea’s Dear Leader Kim Jong-il dispelled any lingering concern that poor health would keep him from rattling nuclear sabers and unsettling western nerves for another year by engaging in frenetic whirlwind of activity that led some observers to wonder aloud whether be maneuvering to replace Paula Abdul as the third judge on American Idol.

4.  As the world looked on with a mixture of apprehension and apathy, the World Health Organization declared the outbreak of H1N1 influenza first detected in Mexico in March a worldwide pandemic; as millions fell ill and thousands died, the United Nations demonstrated once again its profound ability to reflect a sense of urgency by drawing attention to a problem without really solving it, which called to mind both its past efforts to stop the spread of other deadly illnesses such as malaria and polio and seemed to indicate the sort of success its sister UN agencies would produce during the Copenhagen climate summit.

3.  The arrests of three people in Denver, Colorado and New York on charges of plotting attacks against targets in New York City; seven men in North Carolina said to have sought training at terrorist camps in Pakistan and Afghanistan; the unsealing of indictments against eight people in Minneapolis, Minnesota linked to the disappearances of Somali youth thought to have been recruited to fight in the civil war there and the attack at Fort Hood’s soldier readiness center attributed to Major Malik Nadal Hasan that left 13 soldiers dead stoked fears of homegrown terrorism. However, with the Obama Administration working feverishly to close the detention facility at the Guantanamo Bay naval station, it’s more likely that these budding reality show superstars will play feature roles in a new television drama just entering pre-production called Survivor: Thomson, Illinois (aka Guantanamo North).

2.  President Obama with the help of Congress and the Federal Reserve mounted a seemingly successful last-ditch effort to stave off a Chernobyl-like meltdown of the world economy by pumping more $1.6 trillion dollars into the economy; the $787 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 saved or added an estimated 600-700,000 jobs to the economy this year alone while leaving more than 15 million Americans unemployed, another 9 million underemployed, and upwards of 2 million marginally employed.  As the official unemployment rate leveled off at 10 percent and the economy started growing again at a rate of 2.2 percent per annum, people opened their wallets and handed over what little cash or credit they had; what had in other years had been described as an orgy of spending ended up looking more like a sordid ménage à trois in some seedy motel that rents rooms by the hour.

1.  In a test of our ability to look closely and deeply at ourselves, warts and all, the nation’s gaze remain firmly focused as the year came to a close on the actions of an infidel and his self-professed but as yet unconfirmed infidel-ities. In what some reports have described as an impressive use of long irons, Mr. Woods’ estranged wife Elin Nordegren made short work of Tiger as he beat a hasty retreat from the family home in a gated Florida community after being confronted about his alleged nocturnal wanderings while on tour. After witnessing her impressive use of both soft and (mostly) hard power, administration officials have started making discrete inquiries into whether Ms. Nordegren is available to advise special forces operators hunting Osama bin Laden and his compatriots in the lawless Af-Pak border region.

Here’s hoping 2010 gives us more to laugh at. If not, we have no one to blame but ourselves. While we’re waiting, please take a moment to share something that made you laugh this past year or tell us what would make you particularly happy in the year ahead.

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