You can't argue with The Experts on this one. Looking back on 2000 to determine the big stories of the year, Florida's two E's - Elian and the election - take the prize. Both were as monumental as they were unpredictable, which explains the media's, and the country's, fixation on them.
Neither was supposed to be the big story of the year. In fact, hadn't our fabled media pundits and newsmen spent reams of paper and endless gabfests on television in late 1999 predicting something entirely different?
Oh, what a disaster that was meant to be. When the clock struck midnight ushering in the year 2000, the world's computers would be unable to read the new date, would revert to "1000" and all hell would break loose. Banking systems worldwide would crash and international commerce would stop. Utilities would shut down; control towers would go on the blink, causing immediate airline catastrophes; hospitals would be unable to tend to the sick, which might not be that big a problem because after all those airline crashes, the ambulances carrying the wounded would be unable to get gas, or crash because of malfunctioning stop lights.
Stephen King couldn't write a better script for what supposedly was in store for us January 1, 2000. And how people believed it! Some unloaded their stock portfolios, took the cash, and presumably buried it in their yards since banks weren't going to be worth a hoot, either. The survivalists bought the requisite power generators, freeze-dried foods and bottled water, then manned their machine guns to ward off the looters, since the cops were of no use because they couldn't respond because their computers were out, remember?
No one on either end of this story - from the journalists who reported the impending doom to those who believed them - want to talk about what actually did happen, which was ... nothing. That's not surprising, really. We're fascinated by doomsday prognostications even if the prognosticators haven't a shred of intellectual integrity in the matter. Paul Ehrlich has spent his career making erroneous predictions about the environment. In the '70s he said "hundreds of millions of people are going to starve to death." In the '80s he saw worldwide famine and food riots. For the '90s he envisioned "massive extinction ... drought, erosion and famine."
Ehrlich's always wrong but no one wants to say it, least of all the television networks, which regularly give him a forum for his hysteria.
Then there are those crystal-ballers in the tabloid press who make their sponsors zillions of dollars by providing fodder for screaming headlines. Millions of people buy these rags; no one seems to care he is being taken for a sap.
One fellow out there does want to remind us just how gullible we really are. In the January/February issue of Skeptical Inquirer, journalist Gene Emery looks back at the predictions made last year and has a field day at the psychic experts' expense. He examines various publications but has particular fun with the British tabloid the Sun. And for good reason. Herewith some of that rag's best predictions for 2000 from "the world's most gifted psychics":
- Prince Charles would fly in the space shuttle, where he would announce his engagement to Camilla Parker-Bowles. This beauty came from "noted British astrologer" Gloria Goldberg.
- Two jumbo jets "will slam into each other in the air over the Atlanta airport," predicted Mexican stargazer Germano de Oliveria.
- Russia's Isabel Almazen was on fire with her forecast. Three terrorists from the Middle East were going to be arrested at JFK airport in April, police would find a nuclear bomb in their luggage, and President Clinton would go on TV "warning Americans that other bombs may have slipped into the country undetected."
- Wanda Tarwinska (isn't that just the perfect name for a psychic?) gave us the mandatory earthquake alert, predicting one would wipe out Los Angeles and San Francisco in May. But that's pretty weak stuff in the cosmic order of things. As one of "the world's most gifted psychics," she had to do better and she didn't disappoint, adding that in February Clinton would "announce that the Mars Polar Lander was destroyed by aliens" and "alien guests have already slept in the Lincoln Bedroom at the White House."
So what's in store for us in 2001? Most pundits are suggesting a rather boring political climate. That will be true until May, when Tipper Gore will announce she's joined the Taliban and is leading a jihad against "Great Satan America." Faiqah ibn al-Harbee Gore, as she will call herself, will demonstrate her seriousness on the Today show. During the interview her husband will appear as a surprise guest, he'll try to kiss her and she'll respond by decking him with a right uppercut.
And an earthquake will level Los Angeles.