A decade of speed bumps to savor

Posted Dec. 25, 2009, at 7:21 p.m.

Ten years ago, the worrywarts among us were consumed with fear that at the stroke of midnight on Dec. 31, 1999, the world’s computers might be wiped out in the mother of all computer crashes.

The prevailing doomsday scenario predicted a 50-50 chance that computers would misread the year 2000 for 1900, causing panic in the streets and corporate bigwigs to leap from tall buildings as world commerce ground to a screeching halt.

Much to the disappointment of the computer-glitch theorists, nothing came of the so-called Y2K (Year 2000) flapdoodle, and we entered the new millennium free to relax and enjoy life’s passing parade.

The year 2000 featured the hanging-chad Election Recount From Hell in the quirky precincts of Florida. There, Democratic presidential nominee Al Gore, aided by the U.S. Supreme Court, snatched defeat from the jaws of victory, then got even with his tormentors by inventing the Internet and the global warming crisis.

In 2001, the National Weather Service introduced a new, improved wind chill index that eased some of the extreme coldness estimates of the old formula. Anyone in the northern latitudes caught looking like they were minus 17 degrees cold when they should have been looking 15 degrees warmer was in a heap of trouble with the weather service.

A midyear poll in 2002 showed that John Baldacci likely would be elected Maine governor in November. The usual suspects called the poll bogus and Baldacci presumptuous. After the election they called him governor. And just in the nick of time, too, for the lame-duck congressman had taken to referring to himself as a “congressperson.”

In 2004, the federal government officially designated duct tape as the weapon of choice to combat terrorism. Use plastic sheeting and duct tape to seal windows against germ warfare by terrorists, an expert counseled us, and Mainers — who have long employed duct tape to patch everything from a broken water main to an open-heart surgery incision — felt validated.

Nothing much happened in 2005. But in 2006, engineers who designed the futuristic new Penobscot Narrows Bridge spanning the Penobscot River at Prospect-Verona Island breathed a huge sigh of relief when bridge sections constructed simultaneously from both sides of the river aligned perfectly in midstream. This enabled authorities to return a shipment of duct tape and baling wire that had been held in reserve had it become necessary to activate Plan B.

In mid-June 2007, President George W. Bush’s wristwatch disappeared from his wrist when he plunged into an enthusiastic crowd in Albania to shake hands with several hundred of his newest best friends. A U.S. embassy official denied that some Albanian slickster had lifted the watch from the presidential wrist in the now-you-see-it, now-you-don’t incident caught by cameras.

Move along, people — there’s nothing of interest to you here, the embassy spokesman told reporters pursuing the story.

While delivering a speech about the Iraq war in early 2008, Democratic presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton famously described a hair-raising experience under sniper fire she allegedly had experienced upon arrival at an airport in Bosnia two years earlier. The incident never happened, as old television footage from the Bosnia trip showed. Clinton later acknowledged as much. “Her story was true — it was only the facts that had been changed,” wrote one wag on his Internet blog.

Later that year, Democratic Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois — promising “change you can believe in” — won the White House job Clinton had coveted. He immediately named Clinton his secretary of state, the better to keep tabs on his archrival.

The problems experienced by professional golfer Tiger Woods in managing his ever-expanding harem seem about par for the course as these final days of a decade of national speed bumps play out.

For worrywart purposes, Tiger’s predicament may not have the cachet of the bogus Y2K scare of 1999. But you work with what you have.

Happy New Year to all.

BDN columnist Kent Ward lives in Limestone. Readers may reach him by e-mail at olddawg@bangordailynews.net.

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