John Eby: Y2K set the tone for 10 years of failure that followed

Published 4:34 pm Sunday, December 5, 2010

Maybe I spent too much of the past decade hanging around Dogwood Fine Arts Festival literary events, but the end of the Uh-Ohs was boldly foretold like an author had I been reading more carefully.

Recall, we ushered in this ignominious decade with Y2K (that time banks didn’t fail, jail doors didn’t swing open, lights stayed on and planes stayed aloft) and hanging chads where the Supreme Court on Dec. 12, 2000, decided our president over Florida, where his brother was governor (although Al Gore failed to win his home state, Tennessee), followed by such colossal failures as 9/11 and the man-made drowning of New Orleans we tried to blame on Hurricane Katrina and Brownie’s “heckuva job.”

Former FEMA director Michael Brown hosts a talk radio show in Denver and is writing a book on crisis management.

Then we acted all surprised in 2008 when Wall Street turned out to be a casino where the greedheads wanted us to bail out their bad bets so they could get back to wheeling and dealing enormous bonuses they “earned” running their companies into the ground.

We supplanted the original four-letter word, news, with non-stop noise.

George Santayana famously said those who cannot remember the past are doomed to repeat it, but he didn’t account for a noxiously networked world where nothing lasts long, but never leaves, either.

We slake our informational thirst trying to manage a sip from a fire hydrant’s torrent of tantalizing tidbits because all we crave is titillation — dessert, no vegetables.

The more data we devour, the less we know — and that goes for the ignorant invasion of Iraq.

Firing Saddam’s army destroyed Baghdad’s one working institution, empowering insurgents.

But Iraq underestimated American resolve, sure soft Westerners would melt in the desert heat and cut and run after close combat and some civilian casualties.

By 2005, former CIA director George Tenet said claiming “slam dunk” evidence of weapons of mass destruction proved “the dumbest words I ever said.”

We scour the budget for cuts while the defense budget balloons from $316 billion in 2001 to $693 billion this year ($102 billion to Afghanistan and $61 billion to Iraq) — more than the world’s 20 next highest national defense budgets combined.

Terrorist attacks (423 in 2000, 10,999 — 4,584 in Iraq and Afghanistan — in 2009) changed us forever, imparting an ominous urgency to even the mundane with the crawl and clutter which cling to our video windows like BP crude glopping up on pristine beaches.

The ticker! Headlines stream past like Centipedes in one of my favorite video games from a simpler pre-Fox time.

You knew who set the cable news agenda, though CNN and forward-leaning MSNBC followed suit with something reminiscent of the front of the New York Times since 1928.

Smoke and shock subsided, but constant clutter stayed on to symbolize our overstimulated existence in constant crisis mode.

The government is finally dropping color alert levels, but the pulse-pounding prod persists like tap Dancing with  sort-of Stars on your temples.

Bulletins were once like shorthand for apocalypse.

Anthrax! Shoe bomb! Evacuation! Dirty bomb!

Alert! Alert! Alert!

We’ve never gone back to normal — which is painfully obvious when you’re distracted from perhaps another war in Iran or Korea by the possibility of Lindsay Lohan returning to rehab or Snooki’s arrest.

Headlines constitute hard news in cable’s bloviating buffet of talking heads as we hurtle head-long on fast-forward.

Sometimes there are so many rows of breathless pundits waiting to weigh in it’s like watching “Hollywood Squares.”

Paul Lynde to block!

Where do they find all these telegenic former prosecutors?

Are natural disasters getting worse, or are we just more aware of them amplified by our towering technology trumpeting trivia?

As a futurist astutely pointed out, sleek cell phones update themselves while we walk around in lumpy bodies wired with outdated software from a bygone epoch.

We gorge ourselves on super-sized fast-food portions because our fat genes hoard calories like investment bankers with TARP money, as though we’re counting on hunting and gathering our next meal.

We mint new words to cope with unruly times — frenemy, staycation, truthiness, waterboarding, metrosexual, subprime, malware.

Sarah Palin made the dictionary with refudiate.
Paris Hilton contributed “hot” and in 2006 offered herself as an iconic blonde on a par with

Marilyn Monroe and Princess Diana.

The Netherlands becomes the first country to legalize same-sex marriage. There are now 10, including Belgium, Canada, Spain, South Africa, Norway, Sweden, Portugal, Iceland and Argentina.

The only thing we’re No. 1 in is the enormity of our prison population, which cost us $52 billion in 2008.

China’s trade with Africa grew tenfold to $106 billion in 2008.

China has 30 percent of its population — 420 million — online. India’s cell-phone market is one of the world’s largest at 545 million handsets.

We have a new all-time top-grossing film and it’s not Harry Potter! James Cameron’s Avatar passes James Cameron’s Titanic.

We have more billionaires, their paltry ranks of 306 in 2000 swelled to 1,011, though no word on how many of them work for AIG or Goldman Sachs.

How did we get by without Wikipedia (2001), iPods (2001), Crocs (2002), Facebook (2004), YouTube (2005), the Tea Party fundamentalists, Euros (2002) and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (2002)?

Left for dead on blocks along the information superhighway: telegrams (2006), Kodachrome (2009), Oldsmobiles (2004), Anheuser-Busch (Belgian-made Budweiser) and the supersonic Concorde (2003). The Mir space station fell into the Pacific in 2001 after 15 years in orbit.

And let’s not forget Lehman Brothers, the overleveraged bank let fail while everything else around it was deemed too big to fail.

Can you remember 1999?

“Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” kept Regis busy multiple nights a week.

Crime was down. There was a budget surplus. Gas cost less than a buck and a half a gallon.
We had not yet been unshackled from facts and freed to create our own reality.

Ground Zero is stirring. Rebuilding the World Trade Center site with a 1,776-foot tower rises 48 floors toward opening on the 10th anniversary Sept. 11.

Elian Gonzalez, 16, attends Cuban military school and is “almost a man.”

I watch Bill Shatner interview Jessica Lynch, insult added to her injuries by the Pentagon propaganda machine exaggerating her heroics with a sand-jammed gun.

The 27-year-old has a daughter, 3, and is finishing up at West Virginia University to teach.

John Lennon missed this decade and the two before it.

Yet The Beatles sold more records over the past decade than any artist except Eminem.
Imagine following Lennon on Twitter.