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2008 According To Nury Vittachi

None of us will ever forget 2008, a year of extraordinary headlines. Bill Gates is no longer Microsoft boss. The US is no longer the world's financial model. The world's biggest investment banks have vanished. This columnist is still not rich and famous. (Just thought I'd slip that in.)

It was the year in which many of us heard things that we never thought we'd hear.

For example, I was stunned in September to hear this REAL quote from a US Treasury Department spokeswoman, explaining how the US$700 billion (HK$5.46 trillion) number was chosen for the Wall Street bailout: "It's not based on any particular data point - we just wanted to choose a really large number."

So THAT'S how they do it. The world's most powerful financial experts sit in a big room and make up a number.

"Er, how about 70?"

"Why 70?"

"It's my IQ."

"Mine, too. No, wait, hang on. Maybe it should be bigger."

"Okay, how about 700?"

"Let's make it WAY bigger, in case we get a percentage."

"Okay, 700 BILLION."

"Yeah, that'll do. Let's adjourn for a drink. Saving the world financial system is thirsty work!"

Or perhaps the most amazing quote of the year came from US Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson who proposed a law saying: "Decisions by the secretary may not be reviewed by any court of law or administrative agency."

I wonder how THAT conversation went?

He must have phoned George W Bush. Paulson: "Hey, Dubya? I need a favor. Can you pass legislation putting me totally above the law so I can do anything I like?"

Bush: "Sorta like God, you mean?"

Paulson: "Yeah, that's about right."

Bush: "Sure! Anything for my ole buddy."

And it's not just international politics, either. In our personal lives, we all heard people saying things that we couldn't imagine them saying a year ago, thanks to a range of unexpected news events - from the contaminated melamine milk scandal, to the rise of Australia's Putonghua- speaking Prime Minister Kevin Rudd.

Here are the top 10 most unexpected utterances of 2008:

1. Cleaner to investment banker: "Let's meet for coffee. Don't worry, I'll pay."

2. Parent to child: "Put down that milk. If you're thirsty, go drink Coke."

3. Parent to child: "See that black guy on TV? He's just been elected president of the United States of America."

4. Newscaster to audience: "A US court found OJ Simpson guilty as charged, and sentenced him to a long jail term."

5. Adult to adult: "You invested in the world's largest banks? No wonder you lost your money. You should have opted for something less dodgy, like a teenage dotcom start-up."

6. Chinese citizen to protester: "Sure you can trust the government. Just ask a Tibetan."

7. Contestant to quizmaster: "What's the capital of Iceland? Er, 10 dollars?"

8. Visiting Caucasian leader to Chinese leader: "Let's talk in Putonghua. And, no, I won't need the interpreter."

9. Parent to child: "No, darling, Captain Jack Sparrow is not a Somali."

10. Richard Dawkins, who made a fortune with his anti-religious best-selling book: "Thank God I'm an atheist."

p/s photo: Han Chae Young


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