There was a moment there, from, say 1972-2001, when worldevents seemed if not consistently predictable, then at least not so consistently unsettling. The common wisdom is that Sept. 11, 2001,changed all that, replacing the Age of Torpor with the Era of Oh — @’%&! –Now What?!

The common wisdom is right.

A decade before 2001, the increased availability of thepersonal computer and the Internet revolutionized our world, but it hardlywhipsawed our sense of well-being. We expect leaps in technology. We predictthe world of things, even nature itself, will fall more and more under ourmastery. But 2001 was a leap in dread, fear and anxiety, all things we havemanaged to medicate but not master.

What changed in 2001 was the comfort of predictabilityitself. Now we all walk around with a sense that the other shoe will not onlydrop at any time, but it might also drop on us.

This past year’s news hardly did much to prove us wrong.Though one would assume we’d been inoculated to headline shock, I for one stillmanaged to feel sucker-punched by what has been happening: the Iraq War, SARS,the recall, the Al Qaeda bombings, the Space Shuttle Columbia, terror in Israel.

An end-of-year column in the form of list is the birthright,it seems, of anybody who writes a column, and as this issue goes to press onDec. 30, I feel entitled. So, here goes: my list of predictions, in noparticular order, for 2004. Against the ferocity of change and happenstancethat seems to describe our post-Sept. 11 world, I doubt I’m correct on morethan one or two of these. Okay, one. But in this day and age, graded on acurve, that may be close to perfect.

Arnold v. Hillary in 2008 I wouldn’t dare predict theoutcome of the next presidential election, but consider the possibilities afterthat. A popular and effective California governor (I believe he’ll be both)inspires a slight change in the Constitution, while a popular and effectivesenator seeks personal redemption in an Oval Office of her own.

The Rise of the One-StateSolution

Even leaders of Israel’s right, like Ehud Olmert, aretrumpeting the necessity of the Israeli Left’s Plan A — a withdrawal from muchof the West Bank, else the Arab population overtake the Jewish population inGreater Israel. Meanwhile, many Palestinians have moved on to Plan B — abinational state between Jordan and the Mediterranean. They have seen Olmert’stwo-state solution and raised him one. Israel’s unilateral steps, such as theseparation fence and partial withdrawal, may actually backfire by solidifyingPalestinian resistance to any negotiation and letting the demographic time bombgo boom.

Yasser Arafat Will Die

Ailing for some time now, the man whose policies of terrorensured that so many innocents would die before their time may finally reachthe end of his own. Many analysts believe that Israeli leaders took thisinevitability into account when they refrained from arresting or assassinatingArafat earlier this year. Arafat will leave behind a Palestinian treasury muchdepleted through his own greed and graft, and a legacy of leadership that ledto both the creation of a Palestinian identity and the needless destruction ofgenerations of Palestinians.

Flagel’s Rule

In Manhattan this past week, I popped in to Nussbaum and Wu,a bakery on the Upper West Side, and came face to face with the future: theflagel. The flagel is a flat bagel, with more of the crusty goodness of a greatboiled bagel (and all great bagels are boiled before baking), and less of thedoughy interior. According to The Forward, the flagel has long been popular atinstitutions like Montague Street Bagels in Brooklyn Heights and H & HMidtown Bagels. In a world gone Atkins — where office garbage cans fill up withsquished balls of gutted bagel innards — it is only a matter of weeks or monthsbefore the flagel conquers both coasts.

There Will Be No V-ME Day

Victory in the Middle East will not come this year, or anyyear soon. Whatever you think of the war, only the most idealistic would saythat the root causes of terror, despotism and fanaticism in the Middle Eastcould be resolved militarily. The most astute students of the region and itspredominant religion (see Reuven Firestone, p. 8) have long understood that theWest can only hope to encourage the kind of change that ultimately must come,slowly if at all, from within.

Jews Will Face a Crisis

I know I’m not exactly going out on a limb here, butconsider: the rise of nondemocratic forces in the republics of the formerSoviet Union, including Russia itself; the increasingly anti-Semitic actions ofMuslim populations in Europe and elsewhere; the likelihood that Al Qaeda willuse Jewish targets as a way to provide a scapegoat for its brutality; thechance that just one mega-terror attack against a target in Israel willsucceed.

There Will Be Good News, Too

I hate to end the first editorial of the new year on a sadnote, so take heart in what 2004 will bring as well: a new season of “Curb YourEnthusiasm,” a superb Albert Einstein exhibit this September at the SkirballCultural Center and a full year for us to make the world a little better thanit is, and much better than we expect. Anyway, as Einstein himself said, “Inever think of the future — it comes soon enough.”