There was a moment there, from, say 1972-2001, when world events seemed if not consistently predictable, then at least not so consistently unsettling. The common wisdom is that Sept. 11, 2001, changed all that, replacing the Age of Torpor with the Era of Oh -- @'%&! -- Now What?!
The common wisdom is right.
A decade before 2001, the increased availability of the personal computer and the Internet revolutionized our world, but it hardly whipsawed our sense of well-being. We expect leaps in technology. We predict the world of things, even nature itself, will fall more and more under our mastery. But 2001 was a leap in dread, fear and anxiety, all things we have managed to medicate but not master.
What changed in 2001 was the comfort of predictability itself. Now we all walk around with a sense that the other shoe will not only drop at any time, but it might also drop on us.
This past year's news hardly did much to prove us wrong. Though one would assume we'd been inoculated to headline shock, I for one still managed to feel sucker-punched by what has been happening: the Iraq War, SARS, the recall, the Al Qaeda bombings, the Space Shuttle Columbia, terror in Israel.
An end-of-year column in the form of list is the birthright, it seems, of anybody who writes a column, and as this issue goes to press on Dec. 30, I feel entitled. So, here goes: my list of predictions, in no particular order, for 2004. Against the ferocity of change and happenstance that seems to describe our post-Sept. 11 world, I doubt I'm correct on more than one or two of these. Okay, one. But in this day and age, graded on a curve, that may be close to perfect.
Arnold v. Hillary in 2008 I wouldn't dare predict the outcome of the next presidential election, but consider the possibilities after that. A popular and effective California governor (I believe he'll be both) inspires a slight change in the Constitution, while a popular and effective senator seeks personal redemption in an Oval Office of her own.
The Rise of the One-State Solution
Even leaders of Israel's right, like Ehud Olmert, are trumpeting the necessity of the Israeli Left's Plan A -- a withdrawal from much of the West Bank, else the Arab population overtake the Jewish population in Greater Israel. Meanwhile, many Palestinians have moved on to Plan B -- a binational state between Jordan and the Mediterranean. They have seen Olmert's two-state solution and raised him one. Israel's unilateral steps, such as the separation fence and partial withdrawal, may actually backfire by solidifying Palestinian resistance to any negotiation and letting the demographic time bomb go boom.
Yasser Arafat Will Die
Ailing for some time now, the man whose policies of terror ensured that so many innocents would die before their time may finally reach the end of his own. Many analysts believe that Israeli leaders took this inevitability into account when they refrained from arresting or assassinating Arafat earlier this year. Arafat will leave behind a Palestinian treasury much depleted through his own greed and graft, and a legacy of leadership that led to both the creation of a Palestinian identity and the needless destruction of generations of Palestinians.
In Manhattan this past week, I popped in to Nussbaum and Wu, a bakery on the Upper West Side, and came face to face with the future: the flagel. The flagel is a flat bagel, with more of the crusty goodness of a great boiled bagel (and all great bagels are boiled before baking), and less of the doughy interior. According to The Forward, the flagel has long been popular at institutions like Montague Street Bagels in Brooklyn Heights and H & H Midtown Bagels. In a world gone Atkins -- where office garbage cans fill up with squished balls of gutted bagel innards -- it is only a matter of weeks or months before the flagel conquers both coasts.
There Will Be No V-ME Day
Victory in the Middle East will not come this year, or any year soon. Whatever you think of the war, only the most idealistic would say that the root causes of terror, despotism and fanaticism in the Middle East could be resolved militarily. The most astute students of the region and its predominant religion (see Reuven Firestone, p. 8) have long understood that the West can only hope to encourage the kind of change that ultimately must come, slowly if at all, from within.
Jews Will Face a Crisis
I know I'm not exactly going out on a limb here, but consider: the rise of nondemocratic forces in the republics of the former Soviet Union, including Russia itself; the increasingly anti-Semitic actions of Muslim populations in Europe and elsewhere; the likelihood that Al Qaeda will use Jewish targets as a way to provide a scapegoat for its brutality; the chance that just one mega-terror attack against a target in Israel will succeed.
There Will Be Good News, Too
I hate to end the first editorial of the new year on a sad note, so take heart in what 2004 will bring as well: a new season of "Curb Your Enthusiasm," a superb Albert Einstein exhibit this September at the Skirball Cultural Center and a full year for us to make the world a little better than it is, and much better than we expect. Anyway, as Einstein himself said, "I never think of the future -- it comes soon enough."