2002: Let's Keep Dancing

Onward and upward with homo sapiens. A 7 million-year-old skull uncovered this year in Central Africa belonged to someone the size of a chimpanzee and is the earliest--by about a million years--yet discovered member of the human family. In 2002 his descendants were threatened by savage primitives who, in the name of the Creator, were possibly plotting to reverse, using smallpox spores, one of Homo sapiens' recent triumphs over an infectious scourge. Much the most important event of 2002 was a nonevent--the second major terrorist attack on the American homeland that did not happen. Four homegrown terrorists from the 1970s, members of the Symbionese Liberation Army, pleaded guilty to a murder committed during a 1975 bank robbery in Carmichael, Calif.

Complex geometric carvings on a rock found this year in a South African cave suggest that complex and abstract thinking began in Africa, not in Cambridge, Mass., and began twice as long ago--77,000 years--as had been believed. When did it stop? Trent Lott regretted that Harry Truman rather than Strom Thurmond won the 1948 presidential election.

The perpetrators of this year's most lurid skullduggery and corruption? No, not Wall Street stock analysts--Olympic figure-skating judges. Not long ago, tycoons were "masters of the universe." This year they were mastering the perp walk. Enron and Arthur Andersen almost vanished. Martha Stewart wished she could. United Airlines and the Boston diocese of the Roman Catholic Church had reason to remember the aphorism of Frank Borman, who was president of Eastern Air Lines before it went bankrupt: "Capitalism without bankruptcy is like Christianity without Hell."

Two Bronx teenagers, one 4 feet 10 and the other 5 feet 6, are suing McDonald's because they weigh 170 pounds and 270 pounds, respectively. The legal theory behind their suit derives from the Garth Brooks lyric: "Longneck bottle, let go of my hand."

Lt. John Kennedy's PT 109, sunk in 1943, was found off the Solomon Islands. "Oklahoma!," launched in 1943, was back on Broadway. Off-Broadway, Bill Clinton starred in "It--everything--is all about me." Campaigning for Massachusetts gubernatorial candidate Shannon O'Brien, Clinton, whose self-absorption remains one of the wonders of the world, said an O'Brien victory would be "a wonderful way to celebrate the 10th anniversary of my victory in 1992."

A little difference makes a big difference: A mouse's genome has been mapped. Humans and mice have about 30,000 genes. Less than 1 percent are unique to either species.

An Italian artist, seeking to make an "ironic statement," produced 90 cans of his feces. London's Tate Gallery paid $35,000 for one. If your cell phone rang in the Rising Sun pub in Brighton, England, the proprietor nailed the phone to the bar.

A member of the U.S. table-tennis team was suspended for steroid use. When Mets pitcher Shawn Estes lost his no-hitter in the seventh inning, Mets manager Bobby Valentine rejected the idea that Estes was jinxed in the fifth inning when Shea Stadium's Jumbotron announced that Estes had not yet given up a hit. Said Valentine: "I don't believe in superstitions. They're bad luck."

Baseball avoided a season-ending strike, enabling a San Francisco woman, who wanted to be artificially inseminated, to advertise a barter: World Series tickets for "healthy sperm." In his first three major-league at-bats, Seattle Mariners designated hitter Ron Wright caused six outs by striking out and hitting into a double play and a triple play. After the game he was sent to the minors. Pete Gray, a one-armed outfielder who during the Second World War played a season for the St. Louis Browns, died at 87. Joe Black, the first black pitcher to win a World Series game (for Brooklyn, in 1952), was 78.

Montgomery, Ala., bus driver James Blake died at 89, 47 years after he had Rosa Parks arrested because she refused to move to the back of his bus. Traudl Junge, a private secretary to Hitler and the last surviving witness to his final hours in the bunker, said he "gave me a feeling of security, safety and being cared for." She died at 82, wondering: "If he discovered he had Jewish blood in his family tree, would he have gassed himself?" Chaike Spiegel, one of the last surviving combatants of the 1943 Warsaw ghetto uprising, was 81. Flags all across Australia were flown at half mast for Alec Campbell, 103, the last survivor of more than 70,000 Australians and New Zealanders who fought in 1915 at Gallipoli, the ill-fated operation that almost destroyed the career of its architect, Winston Churchill. Of Gallipoli, Campbell said: "It was a lovely place, you know, if conditions had been better..." Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, born when Churchill was 25, died at 101.

And after half a century of sultry singing, Peggy Lee, who was 81, left the stage. There lingered in our minds a lyric suitable for any year: "If that's all there is, my friends, then let's keep dancing."

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