The end of the year as we know it

It is the morning of New Year’s Eve, 2003, and the sky above my home in Brooklyn is streaked with jet trails, portents of unseen danger. Welcome to the new world, in which the holidays are now inextricably linked with fear and uncertainty.

A world in which reading the Farmer’s Almanac marks you as a potential terrorist.

Yeah, we got Saddam, and you probably haven’t heard so much triumphalist crowing since the day they pulled that statue down, but the war goes on, and this is the cost of it. Not to mention this.

In other news, seven years after my friends John Stauber and Sheldon Rampton first raised the alarm, mad cow has finally, inevitably, hit these shores. Fortunately the government is on the case: “downer” cows, too ill to stand upright, will no longer be used to provide meat for humans. And if that doesn’t reassure you, there’s more:

In addition, brains, skulls, spinal cords, vertebral columns, eyes and certain nerve tissues from cows older than 30 months, as well as the small intestine from all cows, will also be banned from the food supply because they are most likely to harbor the agent that causes mad cow disease. But brains from younger animals will still be considered fit for human consumption.

Boy, that just makes you want to rush out to the nearest fast food joint, doesn’t it?

Moving merrily along: the recusal of John Ashcroft and the appointment of the special counsel means that we may yet see Karl Rove frogmarched from the White House in handcuffs. But I wouldn’t hold my breath. From Enron and the manipulations of the California energy market to the outright lies with which they led this country to war, the Bushies have a way of skating on these things.

But hey, a fella can dream.

I think we’ve got a brutal year ahead of us. The guy who sold himself as a “uniter, not a divider” has turned the political middle ground into a smoking chasm, and the rhetoric is as vicious, and the propaganda as shameless, as I think I’ve ever seen. And just to make it all extra-special, the people who’ve been doing the President’s thinking for him over the wonderful past few years have even grander plans for 2004:

President George W Bush was sent a public manifesto yesterday by Washington’s hawks, demanding regime change in Syria and Iran and a Cuba-style military blockade of North Korea backed by planning for a pre-emptive strike on its nuclear sites.

The manifesto, presented as a “manual for victory” in the war on terror, also calls for Saudi Arabia and France to be treated not as allies but as rivals and possibly enemies.

Terry McAuliffe was recently taken to task for warning a group of high school kids that Bush’s re-instatement would probably mean a return of the draft, but it’s hard to imagine any other outcome if these guys get even half their wish list.

So, yeah, it’s going to be a tough year, most likely. But you can’t lose faith. That’s a luxury you don’t have right now. If half the country seems to have cheerfully downed the Flavor-Aid, always remember that the other half hasn’t. There are plenty of good and decent people all around you, thoughtful people who understand that the world is not limited to binary codes, on or off, one or zero, black or white, evil or good. And together, we will get through this.

In the meantime, just don’t pack your Farmer’s Almanac in your carry-on luggage.