Nice knowin' ya, 2008. Now beat it.

Ah, 2008. What a kick in the pants this past year has been. It was a year of presidential campaigns, a housing crisis, an economic crisis, a stock market crash and a partridge in pear tree for which the Notice of Default has been reportedly filed.

In this, our third installment of The Year in Review, it was a little harder to find the high points among a sea of lows, but I gave it my best. So, without further ado, I bring you…

2008: THE YEAR THAT GENERALLY SUCKED

January

Sensing that something is amiss, President Bush proposes a tax-cut plan which will “provide a shot in the arm” to the economy. By year end, we will find that this shot in the arm is unfortunately delivered by our financial system packing a loaded bazooka. But in the heady January days, the Bush administration and the House hammer through a $146 billion stimulus package that, among other things, offers families rebates of up to $300 for each child. This leaves Kris about 14 children short of making her January mortgage payment.

In his State of the Union address, the President concedes that there is uncertainty with the economy. Duh.

February

GM reports a loss of $38.7 billion in 2007, the largest loss in history for an automaker.

Meanwhile, in one of the largest robberies in history, three men wearing ski masks steal four insanely valuable pieces of artwork from the Zurich Museum. Two of the paintings, a Monet and a van Gogh, are found in perfect condition in the backseat of an unlocked car. The car, 1996 Buick Riviera, reportedly failed to start due to a faulty fuel injection system.

March

There is a presidential campaign a-brewin’, a campaign which will be both long on rhetoric and short on trailing “g”s. (You betcha!)

During a GOP debate, John McCain says that his “greatest fear is the Iranians acquire a nuclear weapon and give it to a terrorist organization. And there is a real threat of them doing that.”

In a speech in Fayetteville, North Carolina, Obama is heard saying, “When America leads with principle and pragmatism, hope can triumph over fear. It is time, once again, for America to lead.”

Meanwhile back at the White House, the President says, “Well, Laura and I welcome you to the White House for the Easter Egg Roll. How about the Jonas Brothers? Thanks for coming. (Applause.) We are sure glad you’re here. ”

The National Association of Realtors (NAR) reports, “The volume of existing-home sales is expected to hold steady through late spring, with a gradual recovery in the second half of the year as the mortgage situation improves in high-cost areas.” Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist, says many buyers have just been waiting for higher mortgage loan limits.

Phew. Sometimes the solutions to the most complex problems are so simple. I’m glad it’s fixed now.

April

National Geographic reports on new research that shows Italian wall lizards introduced to a tiny island off the coast of Croatia are evolving in ways that would normally take millions of years to play out. Clearly, there are no large real estate brokerages in Croatia.

May

National Geographic, again demonstrating that they are never happy with the old studies, reports on a new study that shows “highly skilled” Inca surgeons in ancient Peru commonly and “successfully” removed small portions of patients’ skulls to treat head injuries. “Many of the oldest skulls showed no evidence of bone healing following the operation, suggesting that the procedure was probably fatal,” they continued.

Now, I’m not some big, reknowned, science-guy big shot, but removing chunks of one’s skull and making them dead in the process sounds neither skillful nor successful. But then, what do I know? I didn’t see a lot of the rest of this year coming.

June

NAR reassures us in June. “A modest gain in the level of home sales is possible over the next couple months, and an improvement is forecast for the second half of this year as more buyers are able to access affordable mortgages, according to the latest forecast by the National Association of Realtors.” Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist, says, “Sharp price reductions are leading to a quicker discovery of price equilibrium points.”

It seems buyers have just been waiting for higher loan limits and lower prices.

Finally. We fixed it.

With the housing market now back on track, gas prices hit an all-time high of $7 trillion a gallon, which forces many families to cut back on discretionary spending — like mortgage payments.

July

What? NAR worry?

“Modest near-term movement is expected in existing-home sales, with a recovery in sales seen during the second half of the year, according to the latest forecast by the National Association of Realtors®.” According to Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist, “The housing stimulus bill that is still being considered in the Senate is critical to assure a healthy recovery in the housing market, jobs and the economy.”

So, to review, what we have really been waiting for are higher loan limits, lower prices, and a new housing stimulus bill.  That wasn’t so hard. Good thing we now have it under control.

Oh, and in July, a bunch of banks fail, including IndyMac.

More importantly, in a yet another move to protect us from ourselves, it becomes illegal in California to hold a cell phone and speak into it while driving. It is still fine by Arnold for us to talk “hands free” using our bluetooth devices. Other things it is still OK for us to do while driving down the interstate include applying make-up, preparing our tax returns, eating a Quarter Pounder* with cheese (heavy mustard, no onions), watching a video, programming a navigation system to get you from McDonalds to Grandma’s house, and minor spot welding. The latter is essential if you are driving a 2009 Dodge Charger when your  half-shaft spontaneously disengages from the wheel-hub. I honestly don’t know what this means, but it sounds really bad.

*Weight before cooking.

August

“Armed with giant tentacles, swiveling hooks, and the world’s largest eyes…” No, National Geographic is not talking about the mortgage broker who sold you that Option ARM with negative amortization and a “We pay you!” teaser rate which adjusted after 36 minutes to either the nation’s unemployment rate or the percent of licensed real estate agents who are currently working at Costco, whichever is greater. It’s a colossal squid, the largest ever caught, which is thought to be the biggest squid species of them all. How cool is that?

According to a “squid expert” (and you thought you had trouble getting dates), the enormous, suction cup-wielding sea creature was “a giant, gelatinous blob,” sluggish and highly vulnerable to predators. OK, maybe it wasn’t a squid. I’m thinking Countrywide.

September

John McCain assures us that “the fundamentals of the economy are strong.” These words were uttered through the keyhole of Lehman Brothers’ bolted door. Minutes later, NAR offers the Senator their Chief Economist job.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average tanked more than 500 points, recovered slightly, then head-thumped our retirement accounts with another 450 point “told ya so” two days later. The government announced an $85 billion bailout of AIG, and AIG was summarily tossed out of the Dow Jones Industrial Average and replaced with Biff’s Factory Direct Upholstery Outlet, Inc.

Treasury Secretary Paulson said on ABC’s This Week, “The biggest help we can give the American people is to stabilize our financial system right now and to prevent the system from clogging up, because if it does clog up, this is going to have an adverse effect on people’s abilities to get jobs, on their budgets, on their retirement savings, on lending for small businesses.” Unfortunately, the American People missed the broadcast. They were too busy hunched over their bathroom sink hoping their life savings were merely hung up in drain trap.

The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission stepped in and banned naked short selling, leaving Britney Spears nothing to do but record a new album.

October

Kris’s laptop is stolen by an unidentified evil-doer. Certain that it would be returned when the thief found that it ran on Vista, the social networking device sadly remains at-large. Reports that it was last seen in the backseat of 1995 Ford Taurus just before the car caught fire due to a faulty cruise control switch are unconfirmed.

National Geographic continues their quest for the truth and reports that heavy metal-eating “Superworms” are unearthed in the United Kingdom. (The United Kingdom is a place where the banks still have money.) According to scientists’ studies, they (the worms, not the scientists) devour lead, zinc, arsenic, copper and Motley Crue album covers.

November

Boone County, Missouri pig farmer Earl Garbfarb, who these days goes by the name “Joe the Pig Farmer,” appears on Meet the Press and threatens to go out and buy “one of them fancy foreign cars that runs real good” the next time someone in the media uses “Main Street” and “Wall Street” in the same sentence. Even Earl has his limits.

Detroit’s Big Three automakers fly to Washington in their private jets to ask Congress for a $25 billion dollar bailout. Asked how they plan to repay the “loan” (wink), they assure Congress that they will just refinance when revenues take off due to the introduction of their next revolutionary vehicle, the “Eco-Green-Baby seals are people too-Renewable energy-Earth is our favorite planet-Turbo Tractor Tour Bus.”

December

Yahoo reports that “Britney Spears” was the number one online search in 2008, followed closely by Kris’s car keys.

From the National Association of Realtors:

Existing-home sales weakened against a backdrop of an eroding economy…  Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist, expected a decline. “The quickly deteriorating conditions in the job market, stock market, and consumer confidence in October and November have knocked down home sales to another level. We hope the home sales impact from the stock market crash turns out to be short-lived, as was the case in 1987 and 2001,” he said.

Hope. That’s what we were waiting for – higher loan limits, lower prices, a stimulus package and hope. It’s all good now.

And, can we quantify “short-lived?”

Sometime During the Insanity

As reported in the Omaha Science Examiner:

Located deep in the forests of Brazil, the Piraha [pronounced pee-da-HAN] tribe does not use numbers at all.  They have words for vague abstractions (few, many, more), but no actual numbers.  How they function with such abstractions is a mystery to scientists, as having numbers and counting has long been thought to be a basic, fundamental part of human cognition.

Tribal leader, Lawrence Yun, was unavailable for comment.

Happy New Year, and here’s hopin’ for a more fun-filled 2009!

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