1. (tie) George W. Bush-Was it really that surprising? Nobody had a bigger year than the president. In 2004, spineless Democrats and RINOs (Republicans In Name Only) let him get his way every time. Bills passed, judges confirmed, Saddam captured. But the best part of his year didn't come on Nov. 2, when he was assured of four more years-no, it came on July 29, when the Democrats took the safe bet by nominating John Kerry to run against Bush in November. Kerry, in hindsight, had to be the most credentialed bad choice of all time. Boring, indecisive and rich. Bush was not elected by some cavern-dwelling group of born-agains; he won by exhibiting something Kerry never did: the ability to inspire and connect with people in fly-over country. Until Democrats can harness this, they might want to do what Bush does: pray.
1. (tie) Jesus H. Christ-CityBeat: So, el saviour, you had a huge year. First, a movie about your last few hours with that guy from Frequency made, like, a trillion dollars. Kanye West is nominated for Song of the Year with his single, "Jesus Walks." Jerry Falwell's resurrecting, no pun intended, the Moral Majority in order to keep up the fight against the gays. Finally, a guy who says he speaks directly with you is in charge of the most arrogant nation on earth. How does this make you feel? J.C.: Leave me out of this.
3. Donna Frye-San Diego's beloved surf-populist became national news, waging a war against the city's establishment and actually getting more votes in the mayoral election-as a write in-than the incumbent mayor. Though she needs a judge's intervention if she's actually going to become mayor, regardless of what happens in early 2005, Frye's public stock skyrocketed in 2004 as she became a shining light of righteousness and warmth in a (figuratively) cold, dark city.
4. Arnold Schwarzenegger-A flash of those pearly whites and a sprinkling of monosyllabic movie lines and California voters are putty in his paws. A decade after the release of Junior ("a heartwarming [tale] about a man who learns what it's like to experience the wonders of motherhood"), Arnie strong-armed Prop. 66 (the "amend three strikes" ballot initiative) to defeat. Indian gaming: not a chance. $15 billion in bonds to pump up the state budget: slipped through like a well-oiled weightlifter. Constitutional amendment for a 2008 Arnie 4 Prez campaign: place your bets.
5. Mike Aguirre-Aguirre, that litigious little spitfire-who we once called "Mr. Sue-a-lot"-finally won an election. Not just any election, mind you, and not just at any ol' time. He edged out Leslie Devaney for city attorney, which promises to be the most watched position in San Diego in 2005, other than mayor. Not only did he win the hearts and minds of a majority of the voters, his pledge to bust open the doors of City Hall won over his old nemeses on the Union-Tribune editorial board, which endorsed him after repeated savage attacks on his lawyerly ways. Aguirre's now one of the most important public figures in San Diego. Will he soar, or crash and burn?
6. Jon Stewart-Stewart made it so we couldn't tell the difference between comedy and politics, between satire and news. The self-effacing Stewart actually became an influential force in the presidential election-many young people said they got their political information from his Daily Show, a "fake news" show that now draws as guests the most important public figures in America. But he's a winner mostly because he called Tucker Carlson a "dick" on national TV.
7. Abu Musab al-Zarqawi-Al Qaida operative or independent Jihadist? Dead or alive? Red Herring or reality? One leg or two? Nobody really knows for sure, making him terrorism's Keyser Soze. And while others periodically release videos from the safety of their caves, it's supposedly al-Zarqawi and his minions who are waging a bloody campaign against the U.S. and its allies throughout the Middle East.
8. Donald Rumsfeld-The U.S. secretary of defense, who the president says has done a "spectacular" job, is a winner because, somehow, he managed to hang on to his job despite turning Iraq into a nightmarish shooting gallery, being responsible for the use of torture on Iraqi detainees and basically telling brave National Guard troops to shove it when they dared to complain about being sitting ducks in unarmored vehicles.
9. Boston Red Sox-Band of millionaire ragamuffins pulled off the most exciting World Series comeback in baseball history and ended a silly, 86-year curse concerning some fat guy called "Bambino."
10. Seymour Hersh-He's the veteran New Yorker journalist who broke the biggest news story in the world this year, the Abu Ghraib torture scandal. As an added bonus, he's also responsible for giving Dick and Rummy severe digestive problems.
11. Ken Jennings-The software engineer from Salt Lake City walked away from an unprecedented 74-game winning streak on Jeopardy with $2,520,700 and plans to write a book. Even the clue that caused him to finally lose, "Most of this firm's 70,000 seasonal white-collar employees work only four months a year," was a victory of sorts. He incorrectly guessed Federal Express, but H&R Block, the correct response, offered him free tax preparation for life in return for the publicity.
12. 2004 home sellers-Congratulations to whomever purchased the home comat 5385 Lodi St. in Clairemont in 1997. You sold your home this year at roughly a 160 percent profit-nice going!
13. Donald Trump-Goofy Hair Boy goes from global laughingstock to producer of the world's hottest TV show.
14. Duncan Hunter-Our favorite tough-talking warmongering congressman from El Cajon became a powerful player in Washington, D.C., almost single-handedly thwarting legislation that came out of the 9/11 Commission hearings because Hunter's friends at the Pentagon didn't dig it.
15. Diann Shipione-She's the Pension Board member who blew the whistle on the city's mismanagement of the pension system. While she's both outspoken and tenacious, it's her ability to crunch the numbers that makes her a threat to the downtown book cookers.
16. Barack Obama-The state senator from Illinois wowed spectators with his speech at the Democratic National Convention and was elected to the U.S. Senate in November. The only black member of the Senate, Obama is only the fifth black Senator in U.S. history. If predictions hold true, he also has a good chance of becoming the nation's first black president. Just remember, Obama, don't deliver a blood-curdling scream in front of the TV cameras.
17. Comedy Central-The network is getting better all the time. In 2004, it hit us with Drawn Together, the latest attempt to push the "You can't do that on TV!" envelope (and the only "reality" show worth watching), and Shorties Watching Shorties, which serves up some of the most interesting animation ever. This, of course, is in addition to the increasingly brilliant Daily Show, and South Park, which is so much better and more subversive than The Simpsons that it's not even worth mentioning.
18. Nancy Reagan-This tiny rock of a woman has spent more than a half a decade caring for the love of her life-a man who didn't remember his own name, let alone hers. It's finally over.
19. Switchfoot-As soon as you heard that line, "We want more than the wars of our fathers," you knew "Meant to Live" was gonna resonate. You ignored it, but then faster than you could say "one-hit wonder," they hit you with "Dare You to Move." More than 2 million albums sold and you're starting to wonder if religionified power-pop is the way to go.
20. Osama bin Laden-Despite two wars ostensibly aimed at ending him and his terrorist ilk, this bearded cave-dweller managed to evade capture and continues to issue those anti-American-rhetoric-filled videotapes that so confound and frustrate our president.
21. Lori Saldaña-Grassroots activist beat the odds, and three political hacks, won a seat in the state Assembly and headed off to Sacramento.
22. Kenneth Marsh-Though he spent 21 years in prison, 2004 couldn't get much better for Ken Marsh. A request for a new trial filed by the California Innocence Project and attorney Tracy Emblem offered evidence that Marsh had nothing to do with the death of 2-year-old Philip Buell in 1983. A judge concurred and ordered Marsh freed in August. The district attorney declined to retry Marsh and a few month's later, Marsh and Philip's mother Brenda-Marsh's girlfriend at the time of Philip's death-were married.
23. Documentary films-If 2003's Spellbound, Capturing the Friedmans and Winged Migration provided the kindling, 2004 films like Fahrenheit 9/11 and Super Size Me stoked the fire. But given it was an election year, docs like Control Room, Bush's Brain, Fog of War and The Corporation limited audiences mostly to those Volvo-driving, J. Crew-wearing, sushi-lovin' liberals.
24. Jorge Hank Rhon-A guy who many, many people think is a mobster, and maybe even a killer, becomes mayor of Tijuana. Mexico-what a country!
25. Kobe Bryant-Big year for the young Lakers star who can't seem to evade controversy. He no longer is traveling to and from Eagle, Colo., thanks to the woman he allegedly raped dropping the charges. Fresh off that victory, he got the owner of the Lakers to rid the team of its coach and best player, both of whom seemed to rub Bryant the wrong way.
26. UCONN-On the oversized backs of Emeka Okofor and Diana Taurasi, the university sweeps the men's and women's NCAA basketball championships. "Apparently," shrugged a nation of drunken men with letters on their chests, "chicks play hoops, too. Cheers to dem righteous bitches."
27. Bloggers-Fun to read? Yes. Informative? Mostly. Entertaining? Usually. The death of print media? Hardly. But that Wonkette sure is hot.
28. Kensington Coffee-Neighborhood coffee shop perseveres despite cattycorner evil java giant. Even local news station takes notice. Almond Roca mocha-yum.
29. Al Jazeera-Despite attempts by the Bush-backed Allawi government to shut it down, Al Jazeera continues to broadcast scenes from the war that American media sources are too squeamish or biased to show. The network's efforts have made it the most watched television network in the Middle East.
30. Federal Communications Commission-Fines dished out to media orgs responsible for Janet Jackson's boob, Howard Stern's mouth and Bono's colorful adjectives have made the FCC one of the few regulatory organizations with teeth-despite its vague definition of indecency. The possibility of punitive measures has network executives shaking so fearfully in their designer loafers that many television stations ditched plans to air Saving Private Ryan on Veterans Day. Even PBS has second guessed its programming, eliminating purposeful expletives from a documentary about a Puerto Rican poet.
31. The Chargers-The fans are finally cheering again. Division champs, Schottenheimer will be coach of the year, Drew Brees rises from the dead, the Spanos' finally have a reason to stick around. C'mon, you gotta love the underdog story. Dontcha?
32. Google-Two years after bean counters declare the dot.com economy a bust, a couple of search-engine dweebs throw an I.P.O. that gets more buzz than Mel Gibson's Jesus flick. Oh, and it makes them gazillionaires.
33. Orange County-It's been 10 years since our neighbor to the north was forced to file for bankruptcy. Now folks throughout the nation (and beyond) know O.C. not as the home of Disneyland, No Doubt and the Trinity Broadcasting Network, but rather where troubled youngsters are adopted by ultra-wealthy families living in multimillion-dollar homes (The O.C.) and where teens have more expendable cash than most middle-class families (Laguna Beach: The Real Orange County). We say skip the above and head straight for another show with an O.C. setting, Arrested Development.
34. Rex Pickett-This UCSD screenwriting grad makes a Thelma & Louise for dudes, where one dude boinks at will before getting hitched, and the other dude drinks himself deeper into his nihilistic self-image. What should've been a mildly entertaining, unoriginal film ends up beautifully framing American males' uncertainty through the prism of a La Rinconada Vineyard Pinot Noir. And the best damn beating-with-a-motorcycle-helmet scene since Road Warrior.
35. The European Union-In addition to drafting a European constitution and adding 10 new member nations-nearly doubling its size-the EU now represents the largest economy in the world. And you thought those Euros were uppity before.
36. Vladimir Putin-After jailing most of his media critics and political opposition, the Russian president-don't you dare call him a dictator-was easily reelected to a second term in March. Fighting his own war on terror against Chechen rebels, he's continued to consolidate power, replacing popularly elected parliamentary representatives with Kremlin appointees.
37. Zell Miller-Democratic Senator from Georgia challenges Chris Matthews to a duel at the Republican National Convention and later wins major tax breaks for ceiling fan importers. Democrat in Republican's clothing or raving lunatic used by the Repubs to make the point that Democrats are whacked? You decide.
38. iPod-Because anyone reading this either owns one, wants one or has given a very indignant, well-articulated soliloquy as to why the tiny, white digi-stereos are "not as amazing as everyone says." Brilliant marketing has made it the sexiest technological invention since the vibrator-and the slender blue one is so darn cute.
39. Thursday Night Thing-Situated at the apex of downtown and Little Italy, the Museum of Contemporary Art's Thursday Night Thing has, for the past two years, managed to hang on to its buzz. It's the only place beautiful people, indie kids and art snobs engage in (mostly) judgment-free intermingling. New art, live bands and Apple TNTinis all for a modest $3 donation.
40. Hobbits-It sounded like a publicity stunt for a new Lord of the Rings film, but this year anthropologists in Indonesia actually found the skeletal remains of what they call "hobbit" people-three-foot humans with brains the size of softballs. They've been dead for 18,000 years, so no information on how to beat the Orcs and safely navigate Mordor could be gleaned.
41. 9/11 Commission-Report wins prime display space on retailer's shelves-a bargain at $10. Readers' voyeurism sated by recounts of crashing planes, falling buildings and bureaucratic dissembling. Gotta love that feisty John McCain bitch-slappin' Condi Rice.