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2011: The best and the rest

The year now past, 2011, is a blur of events and trends and pop culture, a kaleidoscope of images, some forgettable, others memorable. With every passing year we are increasingly aware that we live in the age of information, a tsunami of input propelled by ubiquitous smartphones, Tweets, 24/7 cable television, tablets and ink-on-paper headlines all conspiring to create a tide that surges and rarely ebbs.

But for all of our connectivity, as a nation, we've been in a funk for the past several years, and 2011 was no exception: 1 of 2 Americans is either living in poverty or on the cusp. It's an astonishing number.

Yet, this was the year Congress debated whether tomato paste was a vegetable. And some members of the political class found time to give new meaning to the word indiscretion. Look up its definition in the dictionary and you'll find Anthony Weiner's name (seriously, do you really want to send that photo?) followed by Arnold Schwarzenegger (does anyone really see a resemblance?), plus Herman Cain (if it's Gloria Allred, take a message), and Dominique Strauss-Kahn (the mint left on the pillow is the only treat you should expect).

Look up inspired genius and find Steve Jobs. Under profiles in courage, it's Congresswoman Gabby Giffords. Regarding romance in 2011, Kate Middleton — a commoner, stunning, demure — married her prince, reminding us that fairy tales do come true (it could happen to you, but not likely).

Defining the contemporary morality play, there were the endless Republican primary debates that quickly morphed into must-see TV.

The debates' promo teaser was Donald Trump (his signature "do" begging for a hairnet), who rallied the "birthers" by insisting that Obama was born in Kenya and brought to Hawaii. Trump's candidacy had the shelf life of old milk. Exit stage right to the helicopter.

Then Rick Perry, pure Texas right down to his custom boots, whose dance card was signed by the GOP glitterati, took the debate stage and, in the words of one pundit, turned into the Rain Man (oops).

Herman Cain melted like a snowman in Hawaii. His final words as he exited stage left were "9-9-9" and "I swear, we were friends without benefits."

Newt Gingrich, once lost, was suddenly found and after a few debates became the candidate du jour. The base shivered with excitement when he proposed that poor children should be hired as school janitors, intoning with gravitas that these same children have no habit of working, and there's nobody around them who works, unless it's illegal. Ah, the compassionate conservative redux, stereotyping with abandon. Leave no poor kid behind or unemployed, no matter child labor laws.

Of course, there's Mitt, emerging again and again as the Republican front-runner. Is this political speed dating? Humorist Clive James, mirroring the Republicans' ambivalence with their bench, and especially with Mitt, said, "Romney looks like he went to the dentist and had his head capped."

Regarding President Obama: He's accomplished a great deal and said too little about it. Look up high risk/high gain and find Seal Team 6, sent into Pakistan to finally bring OBL, the architect of 9/11 and leader of the al-Qaida flash mob, to justice. "Geronimo!"

Likely you'll have to check the Urban Dictionary to find the meaning of "Tebowing" (NFL quaterback Tim Tebow bending down on one knee, head bowed, giving thanks), or "planking" (people lying horizontally in unusual places, their photos going viral).

Definition of "Occupy": Zuccotti Park and the 99 percenters and the protesters worldwide ("Arab Spring"). Under "S" for strange is "I'm on a drug and it's Charlie Sheen." As if.

And if defining strange is elusive, check "Fauxdashian," referring to Kim Kardashian and her reality TV wedding with NBA star Kris Humphries in a supporting role. Their marriage, a buffet of excess, was shorter than a game of "Words With Friends." Kris is back with his basketball and Kimmy is in image rehab.

And speaking of pop culture, recall the bumper stickers that appeared in May: "After the rapture, can I have your car?" And there was the best-selling book, "Go the F*** To Sleep," written by a really, really sleep-deprived parent.

Dude, time to get out the latest, trendiest stress relievers: Buckyballs, those magnetic, shape-shifting chrome balls. Also for stress relief there was Zumba, a salsa mix of Pilates with a Macarena do-over.

Environmentally, well, 2011 was, again, the year of the denialists. The permafrost melting? Iceland now a waterpark? No worries. Irene flooding Manhattan? Handled. Typhoons to the max? Umbrellas all around. Cap and trade? Cap and what?

And finally, lest we forget, we pay homage to our troops who answered when called, and sacrificed hugely while simply doing their duty. They left Iraq, finally, thankfully, in time for Christmas, most trying not to look back. To them we give thanks.

Chris Honoré lives in Ashland.