Dave Barry’s year in review
Taking on 12 months of Brady and Belichick, endless campaigning, and international absurdity.
Sometimes we are accused — believe it or not — of being overly negative in our annual Year in Review. Critics say we ignore the many positive events in a given year and focus instead on the stupid, the tragic, the evil, the disgusting, the Kardashians.
OK, critics: We have heard you. This year, instead of dwelling on the negatives, we're going to start our annual review with a List of the Top Ten Good Things That Happened in 2015. Ready? Here we go:
1. We didn't hear that much about Honey Boo Boo.
OK, we'll have to get back to you on Good Things 2 through 10. We apologize, but 2015 had so many negatives that we're having trouble seeing the positives. It's like we're on the Titanic, and it's tilting at an 85-degree angle, its propellers way up in the air, and we're dangling over the cold Atlantic trying to tell ourselves: "At least there's no waiting for the shuffleboard courts!"
Are we saying that 2015 was the worst year ever? Are we saying it was worse than, for example, 1347, the year when the bubonic plague killed a large part of humanity?
Yes, we are saying that. Because at least the remainder of humanity was not exposed to a solid week in which the news media focused intensively on the question of whether a leading candidate for president of the United States had, or had not, made an explicit reference to a prominent female TV journalist's biological lady cycle.
That actually happened in 2015, and it was not the only bad thing. This was the year when American sports fans became more excited about their fantasy sports teams — which, for the record, are imaginary — than about sports teams that actually exist. This was the year when the "selfie" epidemic, which was already horrendous, somehow got even worse. Of the 105 billion photographs taken by Americans this year, 104.9 billion consist of a grinning face looming, blimp-like, in the foreground, with a tiny image of something — the Grand Canyon, the pope, a 747 crashing — peeking out in the distance behind the person's left ear.
This was the year of the "man bun."
And if all that isn't bad enough, this was the year they tricked us into thinking Glenn got killed on The Walking Dead.
(By the way: Spoiler alert.)
At this point you are saying: "Wait a minute! Surely there were some positive developments in 2015! How about the fact that, after so many years of sneering judgmentalism and divisive, overheated rhetoric, we were able to have rational, open-minded conversations about such issues as gun ownership, gay marriage, race relations, and abortion, so that, as a nation, we finally began to come together and . . . Whoa! Sorry! Evidently I am high on narcotics."
Yes, you are. And we intend to join you soon. But first we need to take one last look back at the hideous reality of 2015, which began, as so many ill-fated years have in the past, with . . .
. . . which finds the Midwest gripped by unusually frigid weather, raising fears that the bitter cold could threaten the vast herd — estimated in the thousands — of Republican presidential hopefuls roaming around Iowa. As temperatures plummet, some candidates are forced to survive by setting fire to lower-ranking consultants.
For most Americans, however, the cold wave is not the pressing issue. The pressing issue — which will be debated for years to come — is how, exactly, did the New England Patriots' footballs get deflated for the AFC championship game. The most fascinating theory is put forth by Patriot head coach Bill Belichick, a man who, at his happiest, looks like irate ferrets are gnawing their way out of his colon. He opines — these are actual quotes — that "atmospheric conditions" could be responsible and also declares that "I've handled dozens of balls over the past week." This will turn out to be the sports highlight of the year.
In Paris, millions of people march in a solidarity rally following the horrific terrorist attack on the French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo. Eyebrows are raised when not a single top US official attends, but several days later, Secretary of State John Kerry arrives in France with James Taylor, who — this really happened — performs the song "You've Got a Friend." This bold action strikes fear into the hearts of terrorists, who realize that Secretary Kerry is fully capable, if necessary, of unleashing Barry Manilow.
Meanwhile in Washington, a drone crashes on the White House lawn and immediately becomes a leading contender for the Republican presidential nomination.
In sports, the first-ever NCAA Division I college football playoffs reach a surprising climax when the Oregon Ducks are defeated in the championship game 42-20 by the New England Patriots. Asked how this is possible, given that the Patriots play in the NFL, Coach Belichick opines that it could be a result of "global climate change."
Speaking of surprises, in . . .
. . . NBC suspends Nightly News anchor Brian Williams after an investigation reveals inaccuracies in his account of being in a military helicopter under fire in Iraq. "Mr. Williams did not actually come under fire," states the network. "Also technically he wasn't in a helicopter in Iraq; it was a Volvo station wagon on the New Jersey Turnpike. But there was a lot of traffic."
Abroad, Greece, under intense pressure to meet its debt obligations, gives Germany two of its three remaining goats.
In the War on Terror, the White House, having struck a powerful blow with the James Taylor Tactical Assault Ballad, boldly follows up by — again, this really happened — hosting a three-day "Summit on Countering Violent Extremism," featuring both workshops AND symposiums.
In weather news, Boston's public schools are closed because of glaciers.
In the year's biggest literary story, representatives of 88-year-old Harper Lee, denying allegations that they're seeking to cash in on the beloved author's literary fame, announce plans to publish what they claim is her recently discovered second book, Fifty Shades of a Mockingbird.
In the Academy Awards, the Oscar for Best Picture goes to Birdman. Accepting the coveted statuette, director Alejandro G. Inarritu tells the audience that "like you, I never actually saw this movie."
Leonard Nimoy is beamed up for the last time.
In business news, troubled retailer RadioShack files for bankruptcy, citing the fact that in the past six years, the chain's 4,000 stores had made a nationwide total of one sale, that being a home e-mail server purchased by Hillary Clinton.
In sports, the New England Patriots defeat the Seattle Seahawks 28-24 to win a Super Bowl marked by surprises, including one play in which the Patriots — undetected by game officials — had a grenade launcher on the field, an infraction that Coach Belichick later blames on "wind shear."
As February draws to a close, 5,000 ISIS troops land in Mexico and march north. They are able to reach Cleveland unnoticed because the entire US population is heatedly arguing over the color of a picture of a dress on the Internet.
Speaking of heated, in . . .
. . . over the strong objections of the Obama administration, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addresses a joint meeting of Congress. He immediately becomes a leading contender for the Republican presidential nomination, 4 points ahead of the drone.
Abroad, Russian President Vladimir Putin mysteriously vanishes from public view for 10 days. It is later revealed that he was training customer service representatives for Comcast.
In finance news, shares on European financial markets plummet when German authorities announce that one of the Greek goats is actually a highly modified squirrel.
Speaking of unnatural: The US Food and Drug Administration approves the sale of genetically modified potatoes and apples, noting that they "offer many nutritional benefits" and are "completely safe" provided that consumers "do not anger them."
In a harsh reminder that the winter is not over, Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh is eaten by a polar bear.
Abroad, tensions mount on the Korean peninsula when North Korea, in an unprecedented cyberattack, posts an estimated 23 million negative reviews of South Korea on Yelp.
Speaking of tension, in . . .
. . . Washington, D.C., is hit by a power outage, meaning that for several harrowing hours the rest of the nation is forced to form its own policies. A week later, Washington is again shaken when a Florida mailman, making a powerful statement for or against something, lands a gyrocopter on the lawn of the Capitol Building. He immediately becomes a front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination.
Elsewhere in politics, Hillary Clinton declares her candidacy for president and sets out to demonstrate that she is a regular human by riding to Iowa in a custom van driven by Secret Service agents. In Maumee, Ohio, she stops at a Chipotle for takeout, a news event that produces a spasm of political journalism. The New York Times (we are not making this journalism up) breaks the story, reporting that Clinton wore sunglasses and ordered a chicken burrito bowl. Bloomberg gets a follow-up scoop, reporting that the Clinton party's bill was "$20 and some change" but Clinton "did not leave a tip." Politico runs a story headlined (we are still not making this up) "The 'everyday people' who made Hillary Clinton's burrito bowl." Incredibly, nobody thinks to do a profile of the chicken.
In other journalism news, Rolling Stone apologizes for a discredited story about an alleged rape at a college fraternity and announces that it has disciplined its lead fact-checker, Brian Williams.
Responding with drastic measures to California's worsening drought, Governor Jerry Brown announces the creation of a state Saliva Conservation Board.
Abroad, Djoomart Otorbaev resigns as prime minister of Kyrgyzstan, citing an inability to get business cards with everything spelled correctly.
In sports, the NCAA men's basketball tournament is won by the New England Patriots, who defeat the University of Wisconsin 2-0 in a game featuring a basketball inflated to basically the same pressure as a roadkill squirrel.
Speaking of sports scandals, in . . .
. . . international soccer is rocked by allegations that bribery was involved in awarding the 2022 World Cup to Qatar, a nation with little soccer tradition, as evidenced by the fact that the 12 stadiums it plans for the tournament all feature large decorative fountains in the middle of the playing field.
But the big sports story is the long-awaited — we're talking decades — boxing match between Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Manny Pacquiao for the undisputed world title in the Older Guys Basically Standing Around division. Mayweather wins the fight and takes home $220 million, which works out to a little over $70 million per punch actually landed, then celebrates by attempting to wake up his entourage.
Elsewhere in sports, the Kentucky Derby is won by New England Patriot quarterback Tom Brady, riding tight end Rob Gronkowski. All the actual horses in the race mysteriously collapse at the starting line from what Coach Bill Belichick speculates could be "allergies." Brady also wins the Indianapolis 500 driving a US Army M1 Abrams battle tank that averages only 30 miles per hour but proves to be extremely difficult for the other vehicles to pass.
In Garland, Texas, two armed men are gunned down by police after they open fire outside an exhibit of Mohammed cartoons, highlighting the need for a national conversation on the problem of cartoonists drawing things that leave religious fanatics with no choice but to try to kill them. James Taylor is unavailable, so federal authorities dispatch The Captain and Tennille to the scene, where they perform a powerful version of "Muskrat Love."
As California's drought continues to worsen, Governor Brown announces a controversial relief plan involving Lake Superior and a 17-million-foot hose.
In a disturbing development, a Seattle convenience store is robbed at gunpoint by what police identify from the surveillance video as a genetically modified potato.
Speaking of disturbing, in . . .
. . . a report on an undercover investigation into airport security reveals that Transportation Security Administration screeners failed to detect banned items, including weapons and explosives, 67 out of 70 times. Responding to the report, TSA officials state: "What report? We don't see any report."
In a historic decision on gay rights, the nation's highest legal authority — Kim Davis, clerk of Rowan County, Kentucky — overturns the US Supreme Court's ruling that state laws banning same-sex marriage are unconstitutional.
Meanwhile, in what is widely hailed as a brave and courageous display of bravery and courage, a 65-year-old woman allows herself to be pictured on the cover of Vanity Fair wearing only a corset.
In other gender news, the Treasury Department asks for input from the public on which woman will be depicted on the redesigned $10 bill. The immediate front-runners are Mary Ann, Ginger, Taylor Swift, and the two sisters from Frozen.
On the political front, the big story is Donald Trump, who declares his candidacy for president and lays out a bold, far-reaching vision for America consisting of whatever thought is flitting through his mind at that particular moment. Also declaring his candidacy, and predicted by the experts to do far better, is Jeb Bush, whose official campaign slogan is: "Jeb! — The Exclamation Mark Denotes Enthusiasm."
Speaking of excitement, in . . .
. . . the New Horizons interplanetary probe, having traveled more than 3 billion miles over nearly 10 years, finally reaches Pluto and transmits back data proving conclusively — in a discovery that sends shock waves of bladder malfunction throughout the astronomy community — that Pluto consists of both ice AND rocks.
The nation reacts with horror to the news that a Minnesota dentist has killed Cecil the World's Suddenly Most Beloved Lion. The dentist instantly becomes a less-popular version of Hitler and goes into hiding to escape animal-rights activists threatening to give him a root canal with a chain saw. This story totally dominates the news for the better part of a week, which we will eventually look back upon as an innocent time.
Hackers announce that they have broken into the Ashley Madison website and obtained personal data on millions of clients allegedly seeking to have affairs. A statistical analysis will later reveal that, of the 37 million accounts hacked, only 23 belonged to actual women, 21 of whom were Ashley Madison employees posing as clients. The remaining two belonged to Miley Cyrus.
Elsewhere on the tech front, Microsoft releases Windows 10, which, in a widely hailed breakthrough, turns Windows 8 back into Windows 7.
In political news, the crowded field of Republican presidential hopefuls is joined by a person named "John Kasich," who claims to have at one time been governor of Ohio, although nobody can verify this. On the Democratic side, enthusiasm builds for the candidacy of 147-year-old socialist Bernie Sanders and his populist plan for reining in Wall Street via a combination of stricter financial controls and strategic beheadings.
In other finance news, the International Monetary Fund sends a collection agent to Athens, only to discover that the Greek government has moved out of Greece without leaving a forwarding address. Also, the Acropolis is missing.
Speaking of missing: In Mexico, infamous drug lord "El Chapo" (literally, "The Chap") escapes from a "maximum-security" prison via an elaborate tunnel that somehow was dug to his cell without anybody noticing.
But the big international news comes from Vienna, where Iran signs a deal with the United States and five other nations under which Iran, in exchange for a lot of money, promises to stop trying to build a nuclear bomb. President Obama says the deal "makes our country, and the world, safer and more secure." For his part, Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei says, quote, "Death to America," but he says it in what US negotiators describe as "a softer tone."
In sports, the United States wins the Women's World Cup, defeating Japan 5-2, with three of the goals being scored by Tom Brady wearing a Brandi Chastain model sports bra.
Speaking of hot, in . . .
. . . the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reports that July was the hottest month ever recorded globally. With a renewed sense of urgency, the world's industrialized nations vow to continue sending large delegations via jumbo jets to distant conferences on climate change until this darned thing has been licked.
In politics, the Republicans hold their first presidential debate, featuring approximately 75 candidates ranging outward in popularity from Donald Trump at center stage to John Kasich and the late Warren G. Harding out at the far edges. Jeb Bush has an off night, falling asleep several times during his own answers. Ben Carson does better, except for when he identifies Pyongyang as "a kind of lobster."
On the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton continues to have no choice but to roll her eyes over all these pesky scandals that her enemies keep dreaming up to prevent her from serving the American people, especially women. The current scandal involves the e-mail server she used as secretary of state, which, in a deviation from government-security standards, was located in her home and had her personal secret password ("PASSWORD") written on a sticky note stuck to the front.
In financial news, the stock market unexpectedly plunges more than 1,000 points. Small investors are urged not to panic by financial experts who (a) did not predict the plunge, (b) cannot explain why it happened, (c) have no earthly idea what will happen next, and (d) have their own money invested in collectible refrigerator magnets.
Abroad, the German Parliament votes to give yet another financial bailout to Greece, in return for which Greece agrees not to publish photographs of Angela Merkel naked.
In geography news, President Obama signs an executive order officially changing the name of North America's tallest mountain, Mount McKinley, back to its traditional Native American name, Elvis.
Speaking of rock stars, in . . .
. . . the popular Pope Francis becomes the first pope ever to address a joint meeting of Congress, issuing a powerful challenge to the lawmakers to work together toward solving pressing world problems, including hatred, poverty, and pollution. Congress, inspired to take rare bipartisan action but apparently confused by Francis's thick accent, votes unanimously to declare war on Greenland.
In political news, The New York Times runs the following actual headline: "Hillary Clinton to Show More Humor and Heart, Aides Say." Clinton reportedly will display 17 percent more humor and 23 percent more heart, according to anonymous Clinton aides who were briefed by anonymous Clinton strategists who had direct access to what one source, who asked not to be named, described as "a high-level Clinton confidante."
On the Republican side, Rick Perry and Scott Walker drop out of the presidential race after polls show them both trailing the late Warren G. Harding. Meanwhile Donald Trump continues to present his vision for America's future in the form of a steady stream of hastily composed tweets insulting people who have offended him. Excited Apple fans line up to purchase the new iPhone 6s, which is identical to the iPhone 6, except it has a special alarm that will alert Apple fans exactly when to line up to purchase the next new iPhone, due out in approximately three months.
In business news, the Environmental Protection Agency accuses Volkswagen of cheating on emissions testing, precipitating an international scandal that ultimately forces VW's Martin Winterkorn to resign and take a job as equipment manager for the New England Patriots.
Speaking of scandals, in . . .
. . . Hillary Clinton testifies for 127 straight hours before the House Committee on Investigating Benghazi Until the Earth Crashes Into the Sun. There are many testy exchanges between Clinton and Republican congressmen, but in the end the American public has a much clearer picture of the extremely high level of mutual loathing that makes our government work the way it does.
In other political news, a person calling himself "Lincoln Chafee" manages to get onto the stage of the Democratic presidential candidates' debate on CNN and make several policy statements before he is noticed by security and escorted out.
After much agonizing, Vice President Joe Biden announces he will not run for president, stressing that the decision had nothing to do with the severed horse head wearing a HILLARY! button he found in his bed, which Biden says he believes "was meant in a supportive way."
Meanwhile, the Republican candidates' debate on CNBC takes a lively turn when Ted Cruz, responding to a question about the federal budget agreement, throws a chair at moderator Carl Quintanilla, setting off a round of applause so loud that it awakens Jeb Bush, who notes that as governor of Florida he had a strong record of promoting furniture safety. Knowledgeable Washington insiders declare that the clear debate winners are Cruz, Marco Rubio, and Chris Christie, so it is no surprise that Donald Trump and Ben Carson surge still farther ahead in the polls.
In sports, FIFA, the scandal-plagued governing body of international soccer, suspends its president, Sepp "Sepp" Blatter. Among those seeking to replace him is a South African businessman named — we are not making this name up — Tokyo Sexwale.
A huge military blimp breaks loose from its moorings and rampages across Pennsylvania, wreaking havoc and knocking out power for thousands before being lured back into captivity by a Hello Kitty blimp hastily borrowed from the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade.
Speaking of havoc, in . . .
. . . the world reels in shock after horrific terrorist attacks in Paris and Mali. With rumors of new threats coming daily, the US State Department briefly considers unleashing Neil Diamond and Barbra Streisand (code name "Doomsday Duet") to sing "You Don't Bring Me Flowers," but elects instead to issue a Worldwide Travel Alert, warning American citizens to avoid potentially dangerous areas, "especially the Northern and Southern Hemispheres."
But November is not just a time for fear: It is also a time, as Thanksgiving ushers in the holiday season, for all Americans, regardless of ethnicity, religion, or political views, to be deeply offended. Nobody is more offended than college students, who stage a series of protests over the racism, sexism, fascism, heteronormism, and — trigger warning — insensitive Halloween costumes that constitute the festering hellhole of hurtful things that is the modern American college campus and THERE IS NOTHING FUNNY ABOUT IT.
Also deeply offended are people who have taken time out of their busy lives to notice that the 2015 Starbucks holiday cup is just plain red and — trigger warning — does not have snowflakes or reindeer on it. This is yet another salvo in the War on Christmas, which has completely eliminated Christmas from our lives except for Christmas carols playing on loudspeakers everywhere and Christmas movies on TV constantly and numerous Christmas-related news stories and an endless stream of Christmas-themed commercials running 24/7 since approximately Labor Day.
In presidential politics, Ben Carson reacts angrily to CNN reports suggesting that he never tried to stab anybody or hit his mother with a hammer. Really. Donald Trump continues his two-pronged campaign of saying reprehensible things and then clarifying his statements by saying he didn't really say them so STOP HATING, YOU PATHETIC LOSERS. Jeb Bush seeks to revive his flagging campaign by unleashing an awesome new slogan — "Jeb Can Fix It" — and immediately surges ahead in the coveted 3-year-old-boy voter demographic.
On the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton continues to execute spontaneous acts such as smiling while campaigning on the theme that she is both a human being and a woman who cares about other humans in the middle class and women specifically.
In a major sports upset, the seemingly invincible Ronda Rousey is defeated in a UFC title fight by Tom Brady, who uses a maneuver he calls the "crowbar," although Coach Bill Belichick is quick to point out that, in fact, it is "just a regular claw hammer."
In the World Series, the Kansas City Royals defeat the New York Mets. The payrolls of these two teams combined are less than the payroll of the New York Yankees, who were eliminated immediately from the playoffs by the Houston Astros, whose payroll is less than a third of the Yankees'.
As the month draws to a close, tensions in the Middle East run high amid rumors that the Obama administration, in what would be a major escalation of American presence, is considering staging a Black Friday sale in Syria. Fortunately these rumors prove to be false and the worst retail violence is confined within US borders. But the world situation remains troubling in . . .
. . . when, with the menacing specter of global climate change looming like some kind of spectral menace or something, 150 world leaders, finally getting serious about this urgent threat to the planet's future, decide to stay home and confer via Skype.
Ha-ha! Seriously, the leaders all fly to Paris, where they and their security details and their vast minion entourages travel around in high-speed motorcades to attend dinners and make speeches about the importance of figuring out how to reduce these pesky carbon emissions. In the end they sign a Historic Agreement under which all parties commit to a concrete, legally binding, and unbreakable schedule of potentially attending additional conferences at some point in the future, although skeptics note that Chinese President Xi Jinping signs his name on the official document as "Phil McCracken."
In another feel-good story, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg announces that he will give back the 45 billion hours that the average American has wasted on Facebook.
On a more disturbing note, the Food and Drug Administration confirms reports that genetically modified fruits and vegetables have been escaping from supermarkets and mating in the wild with other species. The FDA downplays sightings in Florida of a so-called "potator," half potato and half alligator, which according to terrified locals lurks underground, has huge jaws and dozens of eyes, and can be stopped only by bullets tipped with sour cream.
Speaking of potatoes: Tensions rise in Europe when the Russian government announces that it is launching a new startup called "Tuber," described as "like Uber, except with tanks."
In entertainment news, 20th Century Fox denies rumors that in the movie The Revenant the character played by Leonardo DiCaprio is raped by a bear. "The bear in the film is a female," states a Fox spokesperson, referring to a computer-generated bear nicknamed "Judy," who on the same day is nominated for a film-industry animation award in the same category as the Hulk. This actually happened.
In presidential politics, Trump Trump Trump Trump Trump Trump Trump Trump Trump Trump Trump Trump Trump Trump Trump Trump.
But with the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary just around the corner, analysts struggle to make sense of new polls showing that, suddenly, the clear leader in both states, for both parties, is Tom Brady. The scary part is: That wouldn't be so bad.
As the year finally staggers to a close, Americans set aside their differences, if only briefly, and join together in the cherished, time-honored tradition of pretending that New Year's Eve is fun. So let's raise a glass to toast the demise of 2015. Then let's set the glass down untasted, in case, God forbid, it contains gluten.
Happy New Year.