At year's end, nothing is as predictable as predictions. The annual office pool, inaugurated in this space three decades ago, has now become a kind of Powerlessball lottery in which the odds of winning are nil. It's multilateral choice, with "All" or "None" permitted.

1. Among world leaders, in 2003

(a) Ramallah's Arafat returns to exile;

(b) Israel's re-elected Sharon attracts a fractious unity government;

(c) Britain's Blair comes a-cropper over a euro referendum;

(d) Germany's Schroeder finds himself isolated and in grosse Schwierigkeiten.

2. Nonfiction surprise will be

(a) Ted Sorensen's memoirs;

(b) Henry Kissinger's "Ending the Vietnam War";

(c) James Watson's "DNA: The Secret of Life";

(d) Stuart Eizenstat's "Imperfect Justice," with its perfect cover unchanged;

(e) Michael Korda's "Horse People";

(f) Dorothy Rabinowitz's "No Crueler Tyrannies."

3. Best-selling novel from an unexpected source will be

(a) Alan Cowell's "A Walking Guide";

(b) Brian Haig's "The Kingmaker";

(c) Suzan-Lori Parks' "Getting Mother's Body."

4. Winner of the Oscar for Best Picture will be

(a) Steven Spielberg's "Catch Me if You Can";

(b) Rob Marshall's "Chicago";

(c) Spike Jonze's "Adaptation";

(d) Todd Haynes' "Far from Heaven";

(e) Paul Thomas Anderson's "Punch-Drunk Love."

5. To cope with North Korea, the U.S. will

(a) organize a U.N. blockade and if necessary finish with preventive strike;

(b) convince Beijing that its tolerance of proliferation would tempt Taiwan to build its own nuclear "equalizer";

(c) adopt a policy of "tailored appeasement."

6. War on Saddam starts

(a) on schedule, between Lincoln's Birthday and Valentine's Day;

(b) next fall, with the belated revelation of a smoking virus by a scientific defector;

(c) never, as Saddam's nonsuicidal coterie forces him to take up a Saudi offer of asylum.

7. Saddam's army will

(a) collapse quickly, as in Gulf War I;

(b) coordinate a counterattack with al-Qaida to spread germs through U.S. mailboxes;

(c) fight fiercely until they see the Turkish army coming;

(d) negotiate to disarm and allow Saddam to continue as head of a "changed regime."

8. Fallout from an overthrow of Saddam will be

(a) the emergence of a democratic alternative to Arafat in the West Bank;

(b) uprising in Syria and Assad's withdrawal from Lebanon;

(c) wave of reform shaking the theocracy in Iran;

(d) decline in Wahhabi-induced terror as nervous Saudi royals turn westward for protection.

9. Osama bin Laden will

(a) be sold out by a trusted supporter for the huge reward;

(b) remain at large and take credit on al-Jazeera for any terror attacks anywhere;

(c) be captured and, under interrogation, burn his sleeper network.

10. When Chief Justice Rehnquist resigns this summer, Bush will

(a) promote Scalia to chief and nominate a not-too-conservative Latino;

(b) promote O'Connor and add a very conservative Latino;

(c) promote nobody and nominate as chief a normally conservative Latino.

11. The economy will

(a) take off as victory, optimism and investor tax cuts are in the air;

(b) double dip as global flinching and fear of deficits hold sway;

(c) follow the stock market up slowly rather than the other way around.

12. The front-runner for the Democratic nomination as snows begin to fall in New Hampshire, though not with the biggest war chest entering the primaries, will be

(a) John Edwards;

(b) Dick Gephardt;

(c) John Kerry;

(d) Joe Lieberman;

(e) Bob Graham;

(f) Howard Dean;

(g) Tom Daschle.

13. Democrats' bumper stickers will demand

(a) Bring Back Bubba's Bubble!;

(b) All That Snooping but No Osama;

(c) Where's My Tax Cut?;

(d) Free Drugs for Fogies.

14. Republican bumpers will feature the tried-and-true slogan

(a) War and Prosperity;

(b) Re-elect the Commander in Chief;

(c) Affirmative Compassion;

(d) Fifty-four Forty or Fight.

15. If the overthrow of Saddam turns out to be all phony war and the economy unexpectedly tanks, Dick Cheney will offer to step aside and bolster Bush's 2004 ticket with

(a) Colin Powell;

(b) Majority Doctor Frist;

(c) Don Rumsfeld;

(d) Condi Rice.

My picks: 1 (all), 2 (c), 3 (a), 4 (b), 5 (b), 6 (a), 7 (c), 8 (all), 9 (a), 10 (a), 11 (c), 12 (none), 13 (all), 14 (b), 15 (c).

2002 New York Times News Service

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