2008: Not So Great

George Bush isn't the only one who's been a lame duck for the last couple of months of 2008. I have, too. I think all Americans have been lame ducks. We've been in limbo. We've been waiting to see how the financial crisis will be resolved, waiting to see what's going to happen with the automakers, and waiting to see how things will be under President Obama. Like a lame duck, we've been treading water. And time doesn't fly when you're treading water.

I can't be the only person who feels that the end of 2008 has dragged on and on. It seems like 2008 will never end. Doesn't it seem like it's been the longest year ever?

One of the reasons, of course, was because we had an interminable Presidential campaign. And the war continued without any hints of a dramatic ending. And we kept hoping that the bad financial times would be over. So it certainly was not a year's end that zipped by.

And to make it even longer, not only was 2008 a leap year, but scientists added a "leap second" to it. Apparently, they do this every once in a while when they notice that the earth's rotation is slowing down slightly. In case you're interested, the leap second will be added onto December 31st. Let's all make the most of that extra second.

Things that didn't really happen that long ago seem like they happened ages ago. For example, can you believe that John McCain picked Sarah Palin as his running mate only four months ago? Doesn't it seem longer? Were we really able to live our entire lives, minus four months, without Sarah Palin?

Were the Olympics really just this past summer? And were the John Edwards and Eliot Spitzer scandals really this year? They seem like something from a distant, more innocent past. Of course, they have been trumped by year-end scandals, but neither Blagojevich nor Madoff made the time pass more quickly.

Think your memory of 2008 is perfect? Who won the 2008 Super Bowl? Not a sports fan? Who won the 2008 Nobel Peace Prize? (Hint: it wasn't any of the football players from the Super Bowl).

Remember when gas prices were ridiculously high? Remember when houses sold ridiculously fast? Remember when I lost my cell phone? (Okay, that's a hard one).

Remember when the polygamists' ranch was raided? That really happened just this year.

This was a year when some things were all turned around. I don't know about you, but I can remember when people went to banks for money instead of the other way around.

And didn't you think pirates were a thing of the past?

One of the most outrageous Congressional earmarks was $50,000 proposed by California Rep. Howard "Buck" McKeon. He felt the money should go to the National Mule and Packers Museum. And they say government doesn't support the arts.

Speaking of four-legged animals, a Norwegian equestrian was stripped of his Olympic bronze medal because his horse had taken a "banned substance." That's right. The horse didn't pass the drug test. With all the publicity about how harmful these drugs are, plus with every newspaper talking about how stringent tests are at the Olympics, how could a horse be so stupid and risk everything by taking drugs? What was he thinking?

The news story that defines 2008 has to do with Burger King. In the beginning of this month, the fast food company came out with a cologne – actually a men's body spray -- that smells like "flame broiled meat." "Who would want to smell like cooked meat?" But isn't this a perfect move for a company to make in 2008? People are worried about not having enough money to buy groceries, and they think that men are going to spend their hard-earned dollars so they'll smell like a hamburger? Maybe they're going for the burger bailout.

If "Flame" – as Burger King's cologne is called -- actually turns out to be a hot product, watch for the banks to follow suit. They could sell "Bucks," a cologne that smells like money. That way, Americans can walk around in 2009 with nothing in their pockets, but at least they'll smell like money.

And if the banks' cologne is successful, I'll bet other fragrances will follow. I just hope those in charge of that mule museum don't get any ideas.

Happy New Year, and have a great 2009.

Just How Old Are Those Chinese Gymnasts?

Numbers have been very important in the Olympic Games. The number 8 is the luckiest number in the Chinese lore, so it was considered fortuitous to start the Olympics at exactly eight minutes after eight on 8/08/08. 16, 11, and 14 have been important, too. Some of the members of the Chinese women's gymnastics team look like they're about 11, they're supposed to be 16, and some documents say they're 14.

The American press and gymnastics team have been outraged about the fact that the Chinese team may have lied about the age of some of its members. Olympic gymnasts must be at least sixteen (or turn sixteen during the year of competition). Theoretically, it is easier for younger women/girls to perform some of the gymnastic routines, so it's not fair for someone under sixteen to participate against those who are sixteen or older. But we shouldn't jump to conclusions. Just because, on the average, the Chinese gymnasts weigh 77 pounds doesn't mean they're under sixteen. Maybe they just don't like milkshakes.

However, going by earlier Chinese publications, at least three of the athletes are only fourteen. But according to their current passports, which determine Olympic eligibility –- surprise, surprise --everyone on the Chinese team is at least sixteen.

So, are the Chinese cheating? Are some of these gymnasts really younger than they say they are? And if so, why are people so outraged?

The possible lying about their ages seems a much smaller "crime" than how these kids are treated. They are spotted as possible gymnasts at an early age, and taken from their families to a training center where they live and work at becoming good enough to represent their country. So, why aren't the American critics lashing out about this?

Well, the American coach, Martha Karolyi happens to be married to Bela Karolyi. He was the Romanian who coached Nadia Comaneci and later, Mary Lou Retton. In the Sixties and Seventies, he pioneered the system in Romania in which young girls were chosen for their athletic potential and then trained at a boarding school. Sound familiar?

Before I go any further into my in-depth investigation, let's talk about numbers again. Dara Torres astonished the world with her medal-winning swimming at the remarkable age of 41. Now, remember when I said that some of the Chinese gymnasts look 11, claim to be 16, but might be only 14? Well, if you add 11 plus 16 plus 14, you get 41. And how old is Dara Torres? 41. Coincidence? Yeah, probably.

Okay, back to the possible age-cheating. If they are lying about their age, it's going to come back to haunt them. They're not going to be so happy when someone throws them a 30th birthday party when they're only 28.

However, a rule is a rule, and cheating is cheating. If those Chinese girls are under sixteen, they shouldn't be participating. But the Olympics don't have age-testing. Athletes can be tested to make sure they're of the gender they claim to be. They're tested for drugs. But how do you test them to prove how old they are?

Don't worry. I've come up with the definitive test for determining if female gymnasts are too young.

A contestant is too young...

if she needs someone else to add up the scores for her.

if she thinks the tooth fairy brings Gold Medals.

if her best "floor exercise" is crawling.

Or if she doesn't wear diapers anymore – except at night.

Okay, that takes care of the future. But what about the women/girls on this year's Chinese gymnastics team? How will we ever know how old they really are?

Maybe we have to return to Chinese numerology. Michael Phelps won 8 Gold Medals. 8 is the luckiest number. Then maybe 8 is the best age for a gymnast. 8? Could that really be their age? It seems awfully young for them. But is it any harder to believe than 16?