The end of the oughts

Sure enough, we’re staring down the barrel at the end of the Ought’s.

There is that argument about when such an anniversary is actually marked – for instance, the 21st Century began on January 1st, 2001, not 2000, so in actuality the next decade doesn’t start for a year from now. But that technicality is supplanted by human nature when it comes to numbers: We’re going from 9 to 10, one digit to two, darn it!

Besides, I don’t see the next year as being anything but more of the same, so why not start now?

It wasn’t a dull decade, was it? Two minutes after it began, on New Year’s, 2000, a Y2K related glitch set off an alarm at a Japanese nuclear power plant. Talk about setting the tone.

Politically, it began with an election that dragged through the courts for weeks, then in the last national election of the decade we saw nuts from ACORN, and a Minnesota recount where numbers for one candidate mysteriously went up every time they were recounted. We’ve discovered that pregnant chads are more than a story in the “World News” about sexually active hermaphrodites, and our next reality show is likely to be “I’m a celebrity – vote for me!”

We saw a novice elected President, and even those who don’t like his politics had to shake their heads in wonder that America has proven it can get past its history and put a man of color into office.

We saw a natural disaster kill hundreds of thousands of people in one huge wave, and it was such a remarkable decade that this catastrophe doesn’t even rank in the top three of news stories.

We saw an American city almost wiped off the map by a combination of hurricane, politics, and failed engineering.

We saw the Boston Red Sox win the World Series. For you non-sports fans, just take my word for it – it belongs on the list.

We saw idiotic government decisions cause a collapse of the global economy, decades after some of those wrong decisions were made. Oh, and it was the second recession of the decade.

We saw America engage in two wars simultaneously, for the first time since World War II saw us fighting in Europe and the Pacific.

We saw Bernie Madoff become the face of greed.

We saw global warming turn from a scientific concept into a political weapon.

We saw the worst mass murder in U.S. history at Virginia Tech, which became a rallying point for both gun control advocates and 2nd Amendment backers – a rampage in which background checks might have removed the murderer’s ability to obtain guns, but one armed citizen might have lessoned the carnage. Bookend that with the equally tragic terrorist shooting at Fort Hood, a place where our servicemen thought themselves safe.

We saw Lehman Brothers teach us that there’s no such thing as something “too big to fail.”

We saw Rod Blagojevich … well, maybe an Illinois politician getting into legal trouble isn’t front page news, anymore.

We saw Oprah announce her retirement. Seriously, it really is news – even if you’re not an Oprah fan, her show and her empire have been a part of our culture for a quarter of a century.

Anthrax attacks, D.C. snipers, income down, unemployment up, and home prices – well, home values are actually above what they were in 2000, but far below what they were during the housing bubble in the mid, um, ought’s. We ought to have known better. After their biggest highs, both home prices and stock values dropped by about a quarter. The price of oil, meanwhile, almost tripled.

Then there was 9/11. We don’t even have to give the year. Fifty years from now we’ll be teaching school kids 1492, 1776, 1941, and 9/11.

It may have been, historically, the real beginning of the Decade of Zeroes. The 2000 election can stake a good claim, but what do we remember sixty years later: the election of FDR, or Pearl Harbor? They were both historically important, but it’s the coming of war that they make the most documentaries about on the History Channel.

Who do we have to blame for all this crap? Ourselves, mostly. Frankly, we should have seen a lot of it coming. We’d been receiving dire warnings for many years about both the terrorist threat and the dangerous practices that led to the collapse of our economy. Everybody you ask will complain about the lack of quality in our politicians, yet we keep electing them back into office, year after year – or worse, not voting at all.

Finally, we screwed up ourselves: borrowing too much, taking our eyes off the shenanigans in Washington, voting for people based on looks and pretty speeches, giving up personal accountability, refusing to teach our children right from wrong, and blaming everyone but ourselves. We put on those rose colored glasses and saw things as we wanted them to be, rather than what they were.

Is it too late? Is this the decline of western civilization? Can we do anything to change things?

Sure we can, and what we need to do is very simple: Suck it up. Grow a pair. Whatever questionable cliché you want to throw in, it all amounts to the plain and simple fact that if we want to be a strong nation again – and I’m not talking about just this nation – we’re going to have to live with some pain for awhile. In my next column, I’m going to tell you exactly what we have to do to make the next decade a better one than the last.

That would be the … um … tens? Teens? After-Ought’s?

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