What’s in store for 2004?

by Henry Swain

Every year, local nature observer Jack Weddle predicts a winter weather forecast for our county. He claims 70% accuracy for his long-range predictions. 20% better than chance puts him in the category of prophet.

Prophets have been with us since the beginnings of civilization. Long-range prophets are the most interesting because they can be judged in historical retrospect. Long-range prophets have difficulty wording their prophecies because they must try to describe the future they see in the language of their time.

Imagine the Biblical prophets or fifth century prophet Nostradamus trying to describe a war in 2004 with its nuclear weapons, satellites, and missiles. In interpreting the accuracy of prophecies we must muddle through cryptic descriptions and wording to understand the meaning of their messages. This leaves historians with a broad range of interpretation, allowing skeptics to brand all prophesy as hoax.

One of the most interesting prophets of history was Nostradamus. Students of his predictions are inclined to verify that he truly was a prophet. The thing about his long period of predictions that intrigue me is that he ended his span of predictions at the year 2000. Did he do that because it was a nice round number or because he was tired? Or was his vision beyond 2000 too scary to include?

One of the reasons we like to make predictions is that there is so little to lose, except face. Of course, correct guessing suggests the gift of prophecy. For most of us though, we are better at dealing with the future when it arrives than we are at predicting it. My theory is that anyone can be a prophet as long as you are never reminded of your bad guesses. If Jack can do it, why can’t I? Here are my predictions for 2004 for our community and our nation. I’ll hedge and prefer to call them projections rather then predictions. We will observe the construction and completion of a new jail. The old building that housed Mac’s Kozy Kitchen (new location is Salt Creek Plaza) will be gone and a new larger one will take its place.

Only people my age will remember that Ogle’s Garage was once where Big Foot now is, and that a concrete block building much like the old Kozy Kitchen was where Howard Zody started his first IGA store adjacent to the garage.

We will become accustomed to seeing the new school athletic complex on east highway 46 where we have seen a hay field for many years. With these new constructions, we will soon forget what was formerly there. Unless we have photographs, memories of the way things were will soon pass and die with us.

Local elections will see new faces in county government. Some of those defeated will be blamed harshly and sometimes unfairly for errors that proved inconvenient and costly to our citizens. Taxpayers who have not been paying their property taxes during this year of assessment corrections will be shocked. The postponed payments plus the expected increase in older home evaluations will come as a surprise balloon payment. Columnist David Broder, who has witnessed many national elections, reports that never in his lifetime has he found our nation so divided. It runs through every issue: abortion, the war, the economy, the institution of marriage, gay rights, the death penalty, stem cell research, the environment, religious beliefs, and the separation of church from state.

“9-11” left us with a mixture of anger, apprehension, and bewilderment. The confidence in our vast and expensive military superiority, which had provided us with a sense of security for so long, proved to be illusory in face of that kind of attack.

There is a sense among us that the world is moving too fast, is too complicated to understand, and that we no longer know how to deal with it. It is as though we have been confidently treading water. Now, we suddenly discover there is no land in sight.

Perhaps Einstein was correct when he said after our country exploded the first atomic bomb, “Now the whole world has changed, except the way we look at it,” He sensed that the moment had arrived when weapons had finally become so destructive and powerful that their use will no longer protect us, rather could even destroy us. Our survival may depend on leaders who recognize the meaning of Einstein’s vision. His statement is a cryptic prophecy I would rather not see fulfilled. I predict some random event will occur in 2004 that will dramatically affect our lives, and alter the world. Unpredictability has a better track record than prophesy. Random events have always confounded and shaped history.

My final prediction is that the year will be both happy and unhappy, much like all the others we have met and accepted because we have to. Happy New Year!