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Jewish World Review Jan. 2, 2003/ 8 Teves 5764

Kathleen Parker

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2003: PHFFFT! WHAT WAS THAT?

http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com | Perhaps it is a function of age to feel so acutely the passage of time, but I was just getting used to putting '03 on my checks and it's already time to learn a new trick.

I don't want to stop the world and get off, but I'd like to slow it down just a tad.

Yet the supercharged, bunker-buster, drive-through pace of our speck on history's timeline makes it difficult sometimes to focus. Our 24/7 news world feels like an IMAX rollercoaster with events spiraling past so fast, flirting with our peripheral vision, that we have little time to properly frame an image or capture a reflective thought.

Watching television news is a sensory torrent - all big-screen special effects, heart-stopping musical tracks and morsel-sized sound bytes that whet the appetite but leave one hungry for substance.

Reviewing the highlights of 2003, we're justified in feeling breathless and disoriented.

In the past 12 months, we went to war, toppled a regime, captured a tyrant, saw another terrorist state relent on its nuclear weapons program, counted too many dead. Closer to home, another of our revered institutions - The New York Times - began to crumble along with others already on Desolation Row.

The Times betrayed readers by protecting - or at least ignoring - a fabulist in its midst. Enron - no wait - that was a year earlier, though it seems like yesterday. And the Catholic Church's priest scandal? Same thing. See what I mean?

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Other top stories in 2003 included SARS, which infected 8,000 and killed 780 in 25 countries; a blackout that robbed millions of light; the California recall; the Columbia space shuttle disaster; 2 million manufacturing jobs lost and a budget deficit of $500 billion. Breathless yet?

And let's not forget Scott Peterson (how could we?) and, of course, Michael Jackson.

Michael, Michael, Michael. Has there ever been a worse PR campaign in history? The baby-dangling Jackson can't stop telling people that it's OK to for a 45-year-old man to sleep with other people's children when no sane adult thinks that's so.

He reiterates the message on national television, then hires the Nation of Islam to protect him. From what?

Let's see: Jackson loves children, especially little boys; he says he's only 4 himself, which is probably true developmentally; he claims his latest release is unsuccessful owing to a conspiracy by whites, who in fact have adored Jackson and made him the rock deity he once was; and now he associates with an organization whose leader's comments on whites as "potential humans" and Jews as "leeches" fall something short of endearing.

Why not just strap on some explosives, Michael?

There's a reason we can't seem to avert our eyes from Michael Jackson. He is the riveting if repulsive road kill on our cultural highway and, in ways that offer no solace, a metaphor for our times. A man whose face is an emotionless mask, he is the extreme narcissist consumed by vanity and self-loathing.

Ambivalence personified, he's not quite black, not quite white, not quite man, not quite woman, not quite adult, not quite child. He blurs all the lines at a time when all our definitions are fuzzy.

What is marriage? What is gender? What is life? If a baby cries, is it alive? We actually asked that question in 2003. We don't seem to know the answers anymore and so we let activist judges decide for us. And the Earth moves under our feet.

Meanwhile, nine Democrats have lined up to take on President Bush in the 2004 elections. And the nation was still on Orange Alert as cities girded for New Year's Eve celebrations with extra security. One congressman said he planned to stay away from Times Square.

Americans are anxious with the prospect of another terrorist attack - not whether, but when. It is, in other words, a very grown-up time requiring very grown-up focus.

Unfortunately our photo-op political circus invites silliness and pandering when seriousness and sincerity are called for. I don't care which political candidate can ride a motorcycle or play a guitar, or who lies best when asked to name his favorite philosopher, or who's a metrosexual. No, I take that back. I do care. Metrosexuals declare yourselves and go away.

I also don't care which candidate has the quickest quip or the largest collection of medals or the humblest origins. Just give me a grown-up who knows who he is from one day to the next, who knows what he thinks without a poll, who says what he means and doesn't have to apologize the next morning.

Someone, that is, who can stay focused on the big picture when all the world is moving way too fast.

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