Yearly Review/Harper's

Barack Hussein Obama was sworn in as the forty-fourth president of the United States and ordered the detention center at Guantanamo Bay closed within a year. George W. Bush gave his final press conference. “Abu Ghraib was a huge disappointment,” he said. “Not having weapons of mass destruction was a significant disappointment.” A federal appeals court in Texas ruled to permit the sacrifice of goats. Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele announced an “off the hook” Republican publicity campaign, targeting “urban-suburban hip-hop settings.” “We need to uptick our image with everyone,” Steele said, “including one-armed midgets.” When asked about the state of the Republican party, Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty said, “It’s kind of like asking whether the stock market has bottomed out.” Thirty-nine million Americans were on food stamps, 54 percent of graduating U.S. business majors lacked job offers, and two gunmen robbed a man of one dollar in the parking lot of an Ohio Wendy’s. A top Pentagon official said that “cutbacks at Best Buy” made it easier to recruit better-qualified young people for the military. The war in Iraq turned six; the war in Afghanistan turned eight; SpongeBob SquarePants turned ten. In Afghanistan, where the Taliban threatened to chop off the fingers of anyone who votes, the government passed a law allowing men to starve wives who refuse sex.

Sea levels continued to rise, and a 40-yard-wide asteroid just missed the earth. The Mediterranean Sea was plagued by blobs. Pope Benedict XVI visited Africa; in Angola he warned against witchcraft, corruption, and condoms. Papal archaeologists in Rome authenticated the bones of Saint Paul the Apostle, and Jesus Christ was dismissed from jury duty in Alabama. Toxic-mining wastes in Idaho were killing tundra swans; a man in Munich received a two-year suspended sentence for beating another man with a swan. Highly aggressive supersquirrels were menacing gray squirrels in England, where the Law Lords were replaced with a new Supreme Court whose justices wear no wigs, and where cosmetic nipple surgery was increasingly popular. A London taxi driver tied one end of a rope around a post and the other around his neck and drove away, launching his head from the car. Anglican hymns were sung at Darwin’s tomb. Two Yellowstone National Park workers were fired for peeing into Old Faithful. Sarah Palin published a book, and Sylvia Plath’s son hanged himself in Alaska. Scientists in San Diego made a robot head study itself in a mirror until it learned to smile.

Newspaper circulation in the United States declined to its lowest level in 70 years. It was revealed via Twitter that President Obama called Kanye West a “jackass” and that a coyote ran off with Jessica Simpson’s maltipoo. The Taco Bell chihuahua died of a stroke, and Sonia Sotomayor was sworn in as a Supreme Court justice. Walter Cronkite, Merce Cunningham, and Senator Edward M. Kennedy died, as did Michael Jackson. Ariel Sharon was still alive. Hamas and Fatah held peace talks in Cairo. Israel approved the construction of 900 more settler homes in East Jerusalem, and ten Florida middle schoolers were suspended for participating in Kick a Jew Day. Chicago rats fed a diet of bacon, cheesecake, pound cake, Ho Hos, and sausage began to behave like rats addicted to heroin, and a Minnesota man pleaded guilty to driving a La-Z-Boy while intoxicated. China created a small black hole, and NASA revealed that a mysterious streak of light spotted by onlookers in the night sky above North America was a fortnight’s worth of astronaut urine. Physicists said that the aural jitters picked up by a German gravitational-wave detector may indicate that we all live in a giant and blurry cosmic hologram. The United States, searching for water, bombed the moon.