When Chatterbox invited readers to nominate events, significant deaths, good and bad movies, etc., for 1999--a year likely to get little attention in the coming weeks, as news organizations choose instead to review the entire century or millennium--the response was overwhelming. Chatterbox had promised to publish his official "1999 In Review" item before Thanksgiving, but some distant memory of a scruple persuaded him to wait till November was over. Nothing ever happens in December.
OK, that's not quite true. Hordes of protesters in Seattle are making the World Trade Organization's meeting there a much more exciting TV story than anyone expected it to be. Reader Dan Crist (who finds Chatterbox's habit of referring to himself in the third person "rather annoying and less than professional") points out that Japan bombed Pearl Harbor in Dec. 1941. Also, Chatterbox (moonlighting as "Today's Papers" columnist) observed not quite one year ago that the House of Representatives cast its second presidential-impeachment vote in U.S. history on Dec. 19, 1998. (That same news-filled day, the U.S. ended an air war against Iraq and Bob Livingston said he'd decided not to become House speaker after all.) Two months after the impeachment vote, the Senate failed to convict the president--a highly significant event of 1999 that, for some bizarre reason, slipped Chatterbox's mind until several indignant readers wrote in to remind him of it.
By now, it should be clear that Chatterbox isn't much good at year-in-review journalism. Fortunately, Chatterbox's readers are very good at it. He will now turn this survey over to them.
(Disclaimer: Although Chatterbox previously stated that he wouldn't include opinions he disagreed with, that standard proved too confining. Where Chatterbox has solid information or opinions to the contrary, he occasionally interjects below. Obviously stupid or unnecessarily sour reader comments were discarded, but if you don't find your nominee below it doesn't necessarily mean that it was obviously stupid or unnecessarily sour.)
Here are 20 important things that happened in 1999:
1. Most Hated Celebrity--Ever?
The New York Times reported on Nov. 10, 1999, that a new record had been set in the latest Times/CBS poll: [Its] highest negative rating ever scored by a person in the news. The honor went to Reform Party candidate Donald Trump, who managed to make an unfavorable impression upon some 70 percent of those polled. The paper noted that this achievement far eclipsed the last comparably negative rating--the 55 percent score attained by Linda Tripp. Presumably this came as no surprise to Mr. Trump, who, upon announcing the formation of a presidential exploratory committeeon Oct. 7, 1999, had cited polls with "amazing results"--a remark that was widely misinterpreted at the time.
--Jodie Allen of U.S. News & World Report (and frequent Slate contributor)
2. Most Foolishly Ignored Parts of the World in 1999
The dog that did bark but no one noticed--the political turmoil in the three great South Asian nations of India, Pakistan, and Indonesia, which now are well on the way to passing the three northern Asian nations of China, Japan, and Russia in population(Indonesia is fourth, Pakistan just passed Japan to seventh, India will soon pass China to first). But Americans are still fixated on northern Asia--Clinton says he must deal with China, because "you can't ignore a billion people with nuclear weapons," but his own policy toward India shows that you sure can!
3. Worst/Best Films of 1999
Here's my nominee for worst movie of the year (complete category should be: "Worst Movie of the Year That Assumedly Adult Male Reviewers Slathered Over"): There's Something About Mary--a pathetically sophomoric, penis-obsessed mess that wouldn't even appeal to Larry Flynt!
--Felicia, Menlo Park, Cal.
You've got the wrong year. That was 1998.
[Chatterbox didn't have the heart to add that he thought There's Something About Mary was pretty funny, especially the joke about "the franks or the beans."]
Oops ... well then, the best of '99 was The Red Violin--lyrical, magical, musical, wonderful!
[Chatterbox hasn't seen it.]
4. Most Shameless (and Unsuccessful) Attempt To Have It Both Ways in 1999:
Sen. Arlen Specter, citing Scottish law, finds Clinton "not proven"on the impeachment charges.
5. Rest in Peace in 1999:
Stanley Kubrick (multiple sources)
John Kennedy Jr. (multiple sources)
Susan Strasberg (anonymous tipster; Strasberg played Anne Frank in the original production of the Broadway adaptation, which some people think wasn't Jewish enough)
Mel Torme (Steve Reiness)
Mrs. Whozit [Chatterbox interjects: her name was Anne Sheafe Miller ], the first person ever to be saved by penicillin (Blair Bolles)
6. 1999: The Road Not Taken
What an extraordinary year! A right-wing conspiracy topples the president, and the governor of Texas reveals himself in a series of debates to be a natural leader with an innate gift for connecting with his audience, a sure sign of his electoral success next year. A new Thomas Harris bookbrilliantly takes us deeper into the mind of a serial killer; a new Star Wars movieredefines the very nature of entertainment; a new Stanley Kubrick filmchanges the whole national dialogue about sex and marriage; a new TV series from the creator of SportsNight--oh, I can't even bring myself to bash that piece of do-gooder twaddle. If only McDonald's had come out with three more boldly adult-flavored hamburgers, it would have been a perfect year for dud megaevents--all leading up of course to Y2K, the limpest milestone in human history.
7. Children Behaving Badly in 1999
Don't forget Woodstock 1999--the concert of "peace and love" that ended in a literal blaze of glory when in an hours-long tribute to the original Woodstock, the mob started ripping down vendor booths and anything else that would burn and piling it onto the bonfires scattered about the scene. [Chatterbox interjects: Didn't people get assaulted and raped, too?] I'm getting all sentimental just thinking about it.
You also left out all the shooting rampages. Several were done in the name of God or love supposedly. They were all committed by "quiet, shy" people who "mostly kept to" themselves. I've started to hang around only loud, obnoxious people.
8. A Lunatic Rhapsody for the New York Yankees
The Yankees can actually be referred to as the glue that held the century together. Of course, as the 1999 World Series champions, they are a significant "story of the year." However, this one singular achievement must be considered in a broader context.
--Jim Landau from North Potomac, Md. (formerly of the Bronx)
9. A Big Shot Calls for Decriminalizing Drug Use in 1999
New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnsoncame out for ending drug prohibition. Though this by itself has no immediate effect, it makes it respectable, for the first time, for political leaders to discuss the subject, and thereby brings closer the day when the vast majority of crimes will no longer be committed, when billions of dollars will be freed to help the inner city instead of to ruin black people's lives, and when we will stop, as in Samuel Butler's Erewhon, imprisoning people for the crime of being sick.
Chatterbox interjects: Didn't Baltimore Mayor Kurt Schmoke do the same thing 11 years ago?
10. Don't Worry in 1999
The Dalai Lamaproclaimed that most important thing in the world is to be happy.
11. The Athletic Bra Seen 'Round the World in 1999
Public interest and media attention to the women's World Cupin soccer.
12. Another Overlooked Foreign-Policy Event in 1999
Presidential primary electionsfor the first time ever in Mexico.
13. Policing the World Is Shown To Work in 1999
I nominate as the most under-reported story of the year (and the last few years) the continuing alarmist predictions by foreign-policy and military experts about peacekeeping efforts, which are then proved wrong and immediately forgotten. This year, the obvious one is Kosovo, but the year is also ending with East Timor, where the Aussies and their allies successfully stopped the slaughter with no casualties.
These followed Haiti, Bosnia, and Rwanda as places where the West delayed sending in troops because of alarmist predictions.
14. Barbara Walters Did This One on Her Year-End Special, But It's Still Good
Don't forget, Susan Luccifinally won an Emmy.
15. Annals of Justice in 1999
Matthew Shepard: the despicable defense.
16. Get Me a New Century, Quick
A sitting president was accused of rape.
Chatterbox interjects: Yes, but the evidence was shaky--something the Wall Street Journal's editorial page, which broke the story, was not very forthcoming about. As Jack Shafer wrote in this column, Ronald Reagan, after he left office, was also accused of having once committed rape. The evidence there was shaky, too.
17. The Most Important Thing of All That Happened in 1999
In 1999, more than half of U.S. homes had a PC, for the first time (i.e., home-PC penetration passed 50 percent). Of course, most of these PCs crashed all the time, but it's still a significant development. By the way, Internet hookups in homes are still well below 50 percent.
18. All Dolled Up and Nowhere To Go in 1999
19. Senate Endorses Nuclear Proliferation in 1999
The Senate rejected the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, thereby decapitating nuclear-arms control and sending Iraq, Iran, and North Korea the message that the United States won't raise a big stink if they try to join India and Pakistan. The president woke up to this possibility at about the moment it was realized, and started lobbying for passage of the treaty a day after it became too late.
20. Unremarked Natural Disaster in 1999
The Indian Supercycloneis the biggest, this century at least.
Photographs of: Donald Trump by Peter Morgan/Reuters; Natalie Portman by Keith Hamshere/Lucasfilm Ltd./Reuters; New York Yankees players by Gary Hershorn/Reuters; KLA member by Hazir Reka/Reuters.