2005's Kind Of Progress

Seeking the serenity that a sense of history confers in testing times, Mike Cameron, a Mets outfielder in 2005, said in defense of a teammate who lost a fly ball in the sun, "Stuff is going to happen sometimes. The sun has been there for 500, 600 years." Stuff happened in 2005, when an obituary in the Chicago Tribune advised, "In lieu of flowers, please send acerbic letters to Republicans." At home, the president's, and the nation's, disagreeable year can be summarized by three female names: Terri Schiavo, Harriet Miers and Katrina. The first involved grotesque overreaching by the federal government, undertaken by self-described conservatives whose action refuted their description. The second involved indifference to competence. The third displayed the consequences of incompetence. Abroad, Iraq illustrated one, two and three.

In Russia, despotism continued to make a comeback, but Lenin, at least, may soon be buried: His cadaver in Red Square is said to sometimes sprout fungi. The 482-page European Union "constitution" was rejected, but the common currency marches on in white boots. Wearing those and a red miniskirt, Renate Dolle, 63, told a Berlin newspaper she will soon end her 49-year career as a prostitute (30euro; $36) so she can spend more time with her husband and granddaughter.

Why was America's consumer-driven economy not derailed by higher oil prices? In 2005, Americans' housing stock increased in value $2.38 trillion more than their oil bill increased ($120 billion). Vox populi, vox dei ? When Katrina's disruption of supplies caused gasoline prices briefly to pass $3 a gallon, the public thought this proved that conniving oil companies control prices. When, a few weeks later, prices plunged toward, and some places below, $2, the public thought... what?

Rising oil prices and General Motors' declining health reflected, among other things, the success of 60 years of U.S. policies promoting free trade and globalization. India and China are slurping up oil because, having joined the international economy, they are booming. This year upwards of 60,000 Americans were employed manufacturing more than 3 million "foreign" cars. Toyota, which in 2006 may sell more cars worldwide than GM, has opened a design center in Ann Arbor, just 40 miles from Detroit.

Onward and upward with progressivism: In a Las Vegas suburb, the United Food and Commercial Workers union hired temp workers at $6 an hour to picket a nonunion Wal-Mart, where wages start at $6.75 an hour. A British teachers-union official proposed that instead of bad students' receiving a "failing" grade, their grade should be called "deferred success." A Milwaukee 17-year-old and his father sued to end summer homework because the stress of honors precalculus assignments spoiled the lad's summer. When Jada Pinkett Smith, wife of actor Will Smith, told a Harvard audience that women "can have it all--a loving man, devoted husband, loving children, a fabulous career," the campus Bisexual, Gay, Lesbian, Transgender, and Supporters Alliance said its members were made "uncomfortable" because Mrs. Smith's words were "extremely heteronormative." A majority of teachers, parents and students at Jefferson Elementary School in Berkeley favored renaming the school Sequoia Elementary because Jefferson owned hundreds of slaves. Under Chief Sequoia, the Cherokee nation owned more than 1,500 black slaves. You cannot be too careful, so Timnath, Colo., banned smoking in bars and restaurants, of which Timnath at the time had none. The often hilarious New York Times, which opposes capital punishment, reported disapprovingly that a life sentence "is death in all but name."

An Oklahoma judge granted the request of a criminal who wanted his 30-year prison sentence increased three years to match Larry Bird's Celtics jersey number. Death, as it must to all, came to 6-foot-10 George Mikan, 80, who was the NBA's first superstar. Madison Square Garden's marquee once read: WED. BASKETBALL: GEO. MIKAN VS. KNICKS.

Asked to switch from guitar to bass, which he could not afford to buy, Eric Griffiths quit the rock group the Quarry Men in 1958 and joined the British Merchant Navy. On a radio on a ship in the Persian Gulf in 1963 he heard "Please Please Me," the first hit by the former Quarry Men, by then called the Beatles. Griffiths died in 2005 at 64. On Nov. 22, 1963, in a darkened Dallas theater, the hammer of Lee Harvey Oswald's revolver jammed on the flesh of the palm of the policeman arresting him, so Maurice McDonald lived another 42 years. Vic Power, a Puerto Rican first baseman, was one of baseball's first Hispanic stars. Sports Illustrated reports that when Power was playing in the minor leagues in the South, he was told by a waitress that the restaurant did not serve Negroes. He replied, "That's OK, I don't eat Negroes." Mark Matthews, 111, was the oldest of the surviving Buffalo Soldiers, the African-Americans who fought Native Americans on behalf of Euro-Americans. Ah, multiculturalism.