What kind of year was 1997?
It was -- in the immortal words of Al Gore, who began 1997 as serious presidential timber and ended it fleeing through swamps pursued by federal dogs -- a year with no controlling legal authority.
It was a year when Mike Tyson could chomp off a piece of his opponent's ear during an internationally broadcast title fight and still not be the year's most famous biter.
It was a year when, because of a lawsuit involving the president of the United States, we would hear distinguished political commentators publicly discussing the size, shape and distinguishing characteristics of the president's . . . ummm . . . the president's doctrine, as in: "Check out the doctrine on that racehorse!"
But most important of all, it was a year that, thank God, had only 12 months, because that was frankly all we could take. In case you've forgotten how weird 1997 was, let's take just a moment here to review the major news events, starting with . . . January
. . . when the year gets off to a less-than-ideal start aboard the troubled Russian space station Mir as cosmonaut Yuri Hackov opens a bottle of champagne to celebrate the New Year, only to have the cork blast through the space station wall, leaving a hole that would have sucked out all the air in minutes if cosmonaut Vladimir Fishkillnakov had not alertly plugged it with a wad of gum that he had been chewing since August in anticipation of just such an emergency. Russian space officials pledge that "within six or 14 weeks" they will send up an emergency rescue crew chewing a replacement gum wad "if one is available."
In New Year's college football action, the national championship goes to Nike State University, which defeats the University of Nike in the Nike Bowl. To mark the occasion, the Nike Corp. generously announces that its Asian factory workers will receive bonuses averaging 50 percent of their weekly salaries, or 86 cents.
True item: Mattel is forced to recall its popular motorized Cabbage Patch Snacktime Kids doll because of its tendency to chomp on children's hair and not let go. (There is no truth to the rumor that the doll was originally called "Snacktime Marv.")
An ethics investigation into Newt Gingrich, who is accused of improperly accepting surgical implants to make his face perfectly round, is complicated by allegations that a Florida couple, using a radio scanner, illegally intercepted a cellular-phone conversation between the House speaker and his home planet.
President Clinton's administration finally completes work on what many observers believe to be the most impressive accomplishment of his first term in office: planning huge parties to celebrate his second term in office. In his inaugural speech, Clinton, continuing his search for a popular issue that will assure him a place in history, pledges to appoint a federal commission to "find out how come candy bars are getting smaller."
In the Middle East, talks resume.
In education news, the Oakland, Calif., school system decides to teach "ebonics." A lot of people be upset. February
Bad luck once again strikes the troubled Russian space station Mir when the main navigational computer is eaten by a rat. Fortunately, the plucky cosmonauts are able to navigate the craft manually, taking star sightings by holding their breath and sticking their heads out the cabin window for what a Russian space agency spokesperson describes as "very brief periods." Elsewhere in space, the Hubble orbiting telescope stops working, forcing NASA to send a space shuttle crew up with the risky mission of putting in another quarter.
In other science news, a group of Scottish genetic researchers, after a long night of drinking Scotch, hatch a plan to tell the news media that they have cloned a sheep named Dolly. The news media naturally accept this claim with no proof whatsoever, and within hours the entire world has been bombarded with images of Dolly, who is immediately signed to a seven-figure deal to write a book in which she is expected to reveal that she was abused as a lamb.
In a Los Angeles courtroom, O.J. Simpson's legal fortunes take a turn for the worse when members of a civil-trial jury, after carefully weighing the evidence, attempt to kill him with a chair. As the trial ends, experts fear the U.S. economy will suffer because of layoffs in the massive O.J. Industry, which currently employs one-third of the nation's media and legal professionals; however, much of the slack is quickly taken up by the rapidly expanding JonBenet Ramsey Industry.
On the political front, President Clinton, in a news conference originally intended to launch his potentially historic War on Toenail Fungus, winds up answering pesky press questions about reports that his 1996 campaign raised money by selling sleepovers in the Lincoln Bedroom for $50,000 a pop. The president states that he has "no clear recollection" of running for president in 1996 and "definitely cannot recall meeting anybody named Lincoln."
True item: In a major victory for the war on drugs, Gen. Jesus Gutierrez Rebollo, who is the top man in Mexico's anti-drug effort and who received a plaque from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration citing him for "Outstanding Contribution in the Field of Drug Law Enforcement," is arrested and charged with being involved with a gang of narcotics traffickers.
In other foreign news, Deng Xiaoping, the corrupt old tyrant who has controlled China since the death of Mao, finally dies, clearing the way, at long last, for a slightly younger corrupt tyrant.
In the Middle East, talks break down. Pilots for American Airlines threaten to go on strike over the thorny issue of "why every single in-flight movie has to feature Steve Guttenberg." The strike threatens to cause massive delays in commercial air travel. The day is saved at the last minute when President Clinton steps in and points out that massive delays are pretty much normal. March
Problems continue to plague the troubled Russian space station Mir when all power is suddenly shut off as a result of an apparent failure by the Russian space agency to pay its electric bill. Disaster is temporarily averted when an emergency crew arrives with a carpet, which enables the plucky astronauts to generate their own static electricity by scuffing their feet.
In Washington, President Clinton's plan to launch a historic federal initiative against carpenter ants is postponed indefinitely when he breaks his leg while attempting to step over an enormous campaign contribution. Attorney General Janet Reno vows to have her office conduct a thorough investigation into the burgeoning campaign-funding scandal "just as soon as somebody tells me where my office is."
A 60-year-old mystery is solved when pilot Linda Finch, retracing the route of Amelia Earhart in an exact replica of the famous aviatrix's plane, finds Earhart herself still waiting for clearance to take off from La Guardia. In other aviation news, former president George Bush jumps out of an airplane and parachutes safely to the ground, only to be immediately recaptured by his Secret Service detail.
True item: In Somerset, Mass., police charge a woman with assault after she allegedly clubs her estranged husband to the floor with a Tickle Me Elmo doll.
Both houses of Congress pass a law requiring that television programs containing explicit sexual content must display this parental warning: "WARNING TO PARENTS: WHILE YOU ARE READING THIS WARNING ON TELEVISION, YOUR CHILDREN ARE DOWNLOADING DIRTY PICTURES FROM THE INTERNET."
The month ends on a shocking note with the mass suicide of the California-based Heaven's Gate cult, whose members believed they were going to be picked up by an alien spacecraft accompanying the comet Hale-Bopp. In the wake of the tragedy, an angry but determined O.J. Simpson vows that he will not rest until he finds the comet that is really responsible. April History's first "space burial" takes place when a commercial rocket blasts off carrying a satellite containing the ashes of 24 deceased people whose wish was to spend all of eternity peacefully orbiting the Earth. Everything goes smoothly until the satellite slams through the wall of the troubled Russian space station Mir, where efforts by plucky cosmonauts to repair the damage are hampered by the fact that they keep inhaling and sneezing out tiny fragments of "Star Trek" creator Gene Roddenberry.
Meanwhile, in the burgeoning presidential campaign fund-raising scandal, investigators discover that for at least nine months of 1996, the office of U.S. treasury secretary was held by a wealthy Taiwanese citizen named Ping Yo Pong. President Clinton, during a news conference to announce the formation of a historic Federal Adopt-a-Puppy Task Force, points out that he has "never even been to Taiwan." In response to these new allegations, Attorney General Reno vows to "look into the possibility" of purchasing a newspaper.
Ellen DeGeneres, in a televised event that receives more worldwide attention than the first lunar landing, courageously reveals, on the air, that the letters in her name can be rearranged to spell "Slender Eel Gene."
On the legal front, the tobacco industry goes on trial on charges that, for years, it has been making and selling cigarettes. The industry promises to produce expert scientists who will testify against "the totally unproved claim that just because you are a giant tobacco company, you are automatically involved with tobacco products."
In golf, Tiger Woods wins the Masters and is awarded the traditional green Nike logo. Shortly thereafter, Fuzzy Zoeller lowers the sport's previous one-day IQ record, with a 53.
In the Middle East, both sides agree to resume talks for the purpose of seeing how fast they will break back down.
The medical world is stunned when a 63-year-old California woman gives birth to a baby; what makes this event even more amazing is that the baby is 27 years old. In Scotland, genetic researchers announce that they have cloned an ant, which they name Hester. May
Astronomers are treated to a once-in-a-lifetime celestial extravaganza as the comet Hale-Bopp, having rounded the sun and now leaving the solar system at 40,000 miles per hour, slams into the problem-plagued Russian space station Mir, seriously damaging the only piece of equipment on the craft that is still working, a Magic 8 Ball, which becomes permanently stuck on "Outlook Hazy -- Try Again."
In Washington, the Clinton administration and Congress finally come to terms on an agreement to once and for all balance the federal budget. This is the 19th such agreement in the past 12 years, earning the United States the coveted international award for World's Most Frequently Balanced Budget. But in a piece of bad news for the president, a court rules that Paula Jones can proceed with her lawsuit alleging that, as governor of Arkansas, Clinton showed her his doctrine.
In a highly controversial decision that, according to critics, is proof that the military justice system is out of date, the Air Force announces that it will court-martial bomber pilot Kelly Flinn on charges of being a witch. In the tobacco industry trial, the head of the Tobacco Institute testifies that he knows of "no conclusive scientific evidence" that human beings need lungs.
Meanwhile, alarmed meteorologists in the Pacific report that El Nino has escaped and may be heading toward the U.S. mainland.
In a much-anticipated showdown between man and machine, world chess champion Garry Kasparov squares off against an IBM supercomputer dubbed Deep Blue. Kasparov appears to have the edge in the early going, only to lose his composure entirely when Deep Blue, employing a bold attacking strategy never before seen in a computer, bites off Kasparov's ear.
In Scotland, researchers announce that they have successfully produced a 100 percent genetically identical clone of the movie "Jurassic Park," which they name "The Lost World." June
Problems continue to plague the troubled Russian space station Mir when both the main and auxiliary toilets become massively clogged, possibly because for eight straight months the crew members' diet has consisted exclusively of a special "space food" mixture of Spam and Tang, called Spang.
The campaign-finance scandal continues to burgeon with the allegation that in August 1996, President Clinton sold Amway products from the Oval Office. Elsewhere in Washington, the Supreme Court, ruling on a ban on Internet pornography passed earlier by Congress, declares that it needs a "much faster modem." The sex-in-the-military scandal takes a turn for the worse when the entire membership of the Joint Chiefs of Staff is arrested in a raid on an establishment called the Bazoom Room. President Clinton vows to "look into it."
In other morality news, the Southern Baptist Convention votes to boycott Disney after a church investigation shows that Huey, Dewey and Louie are not really Donald's "nephews."
In sports, "Snacktime Mike" Tyson, in a fight with Evander Holyfield, commits an act so despicable, so repugnant, so loathsome, that the boxing authorities will probably not permit him to make millions of dollars boxing for, gosh, months.
True item: Strom Thurmond, who is honored in June for becoming the longest-serving U.S. senator, writes a foreword to a book by a former staff member, apparently unaware that the book, "The Day After Roswell," contends that the U.S. won the Cold War with technology taken from an alien spaceship. July The NASA Mars probe Pathfinder lands on the Red Planet after a harrowing approach in which it narrowly misses the problem-plagued Russian space station Mir, which has wandered several billion miles off course after losing power to its thruster rockets, forcing the plucky cosmonauts to steer the craft by squirting condiment packets into space. Upon landing on Mars, Pathfinder releases its rover vehicle, Sojourner, which -- in a demonstration of superb design and engineering -- runs into a rock, deploys its air bag and files a lawsuit.
In weather news, El Nino releases a "gangsta" rap album titled, "2 Warm 4 Da Latitude."
After months of debate, Congress finally passes a package of tax cuts that will somehow, some way, not lower your taxes. Meanwhile, Middle East Peace talks break down again when gunfire erupts during the opening prayer.
The Big Tobacco trial comes to a sudden and surprising end when the tobacco industry accepts a plea bargain in which it pleads guilty to a reduced charge of selling a pack of Kool Kings to a 17-year-old, and agrees to pay $233 billion to "every lawyer within a radius of 400 miles."
Elsewhere on the health front, medical experts become concerned about the popular diet drug fen-phen after a clinical study concludes that, quote, " Fen-phen' sounds like the name of a cartoon chicken."
The economy continues to boom, primarily because of the millions of new jobs created by the telecommunications industry's massive effort to change every area code in America every two months. August
A strike against UPS results in major headaches for businesses as well as sporadic acts of violence, the worst coming when angry strikers attack the troubled, and seriously off-course, Russian space station Mir as it inadvertently crosses a picket line in Akron, Ohio. The strike is settled quickly when President Clinton, exercising his powers under the Taft-Hartley Act, informs leaders for both sides that if they do not come to terms immediately, he will commence hugging them.
Unfortunately, the president's triumph is short-lived as the campaign fund-raising scandal continues to burgeon with the revelation that, during the 1996 presidential campaign, the entire second floor of the White House was dismantled and shipped in crates to the home of a wealthy California contributor. Attorney General Reno vows to conduct a thorough investigation "to determine whether the White House is in fact government property."
On the crime front, a riveting nationwide manhunt finally ends when suspected spree murderer Andrew Cunanan is finally cornered in a South Florida houseboat and, following a tense standoff with police, elected to the Miami City Commission.
On Wall Street, the soaring stock market falters when Federal Reserve Board Chairman Alan Greenspan, in a speech to a group of international bankers, reveals that he is wearing a brassiere. September
Sportscaster Marv Albert is tried on charges connected to an unusual personality disorder that causes him to suddenly transform into another kind of entity altogether, kind of like a werewolf, except in Marv's case it is more like a werebeaver. Albert's attorney, Roy Black, surprises the legal profession by going with a "mistaken identity" defense, contending that the victim was probably attacked by "some other Knicks broadcaster named Marv Albert' who wears women's undergarments and has what appears to be an irate ferret clinging to his scalp." But things go badly for the defense when the prosecution produces a surprise witness who also claims to be an Albert victim -- Dennis Rodman, who, in a moment of high courtroom drama, turns tearfully to the defendant and says: "How come you never call?"
In Washington, Attorney General Reno, clearly angered by the mounting evidence of flagrant White House campaign-finance abuses, vows that her staff will conduct a "thorough, exhaustive and unsparing investigation" into the possibility of purchasing legal pads.
Meanwhile, in dramatic congressional committee hearings, taxpayers tell shocking stories of being abused by the Internal Revenue Service; a chastised IRS commissioner promises committee members that his agency will henceforth "use a lower setting on the cattle prods."
In education, Chelsea Clinton enrolls in Stanford, where authorities insist that she "will be treated no differently from any other student whose father has the authority to launch nuclear strikes." October The United States launches the Cassini space probe despite vocal opposition by protesters who are concerned that if something goes wrong, the probe could crash in a populated area and spew out its deadly cargo of fen-phen. Fortunately, the launch goes off without a hitch, and the mission proceeds flawlessly for several minutes, at which point the probe, now traveling at 17,000 miles per hour, somehow -- in what astronomers later describe as "a one in a billion chance" -- manages to miss the troubled Russian space station Mir. There are no contingency plans for this fluke occurrence, and mission control has no choice but to abort the mission and blow up the probe.
In government news, President Clinton is fitted with hearing aids, and for the first time in his presidency he is able to actually hear the questions at news conferences. Meanwhile, the campaign fund-raising scandal burgeons yet another notch when the White House staff, which never knows what it will stumble across next, discovers some videotapes of White House coffee gatherings. On one tape, a voice can clearly be heard in the background saying: "Here's your coffee. That will be $50,000." On another tape, this exchange takes place:
"Where shall I leave this large illegal cash contribution from a noncitizen?"
"Oh, just put it on the sofa, with the others."
Upon seeing the tapes, a visibly angry Attorney General Reno vows to determine "whether they were duplicated in violation of the FBI copyright warning."
In the Middle East, talks are suspended because of what one spokesperson describes as "an act of flagrant ventriloquism."
In entertainment news, the Media Hype Legal Event of the Month for October is "the nanny trial," which is watched closely by audiences on both sides of the Atlantic, and ends on a controversial note when an outraged O.J. Simpson vows to "find the nanny who is really responsible." November The eyeballs of the world are once again focused on Iraq, where Saddam Hussein, the Wile E. Coyote of international tension, is suspected of constructing secret military facilities that, according to U.S. intelligence, will be capable, upon completion, of manufacturing fen-phen. The crisis is averted when Iraq, faced with the threat of overwhelming U.S. military force, is purchased by the Nike Corp.
Elsewhere in the Mideast, peace talks break down over the recurring issue of wedgies.
In legal news, the trial of suspected Unabomber Ted Kaczynski takes a surprising twist with the introduction of a videotape that appears to show the reclusive 55-year-old former professor attending a White House coffee gathering. Attorney General Reno vows "to come up with some kind of vow." Chelsea Clinton is named dean of Stanford Law School.
In a move that symbolizes the bold ideological resurgence of the Republican Party, Bob Dole gets a face lift.
In the month's top "human interest" story, an Iowa woman gives birth to septuplets, then attempts to slug President Clinton when he tells her that he feels her pain.
El Nino is elected president of the Teamsters.
The month ends with a heartwarming "high-tech" updating of the traditional Thanksgiving story as astronauts aboard the space shuttle Columbia successfully complete the first orbital transfer of a frozen turkey to hungry cosmonauts aboard the troubled Russian space station Mir. Unfortunately, the Mir oven is not working, and the cosmonauts make the questionable decision to cook the bird by exposing it to cosmic radiation until it is glowing like a beer sign. Within minutes after eating it, they begin to experience what Russian space officials describe as "a case of the nuclear trots." December
The burgeoning campaign-finance scandal takes yet another alarming turn when Vice President Gore is arrested for selling crack at the Lincoln Memorial. An indignant President Clinton tells the press that he has "no so-called knowledge of any so-called Vice President Gore." Attorney General Reno vows to drive a pickup truck across the country, sleeping in the back under a tarpaulin.
In the ongoing GOP resurgence, Dan Quayle gets a brain transplant.
On the legal front, the U.S. Supreme Court, in a decision that observers believe may herald a more liberal era, votes 7-2 to get nose rings. In Los Angeles, a low-speed police freeway pursuit of a white Ford Bronco results, finally, in the capture of El Nino.
On the entertainment front, the seemingly ageless Rolling Stones tour America to promote their new CD, titled "We Can't Remember the Name of Our New CD."
At Stanford University, Chelsea Clinton turns in her first English paper and receives a Nobel Prize.
In the Middle East, talks break down over the issue of whether stone beats scissors. Aside from that, it is generally a peaceful time as the holy season is celebrated over much of the Earth. It is also celebrated aboard the troubled space station Mir, which turns out to be unfortunate inasmuch as two of the major elements of a traditional Russian Christmas celebration are (1) drinking vodka and (2) lighting candles. As the resulting on-board fire rages out of control, plucky cosmonauts are able to get into an escape pod and jettison from the doomed station; Russian space authorities are unable to maintain radio contact, but report that the cosmonauts appear to be headed toward "a safe landing on the island of Montserrat." Happy New Year.