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The 2000s: A decade of uh-oh

What just happened?

The first decade of the 2000s - a decade that nobody can agree what to call, though "uh-ohs" has been suggested - is nearing its close. Expectations of 10 years ago have been blown apart, more than once, and re-assembled.

Our old habits, customs and comfort zones were highlighted and, click, deleted. Then reset.

The irony of arguments over where the nation goes from here, after doubling a century's worth of collective debt in one decade, is this: America entered the millennium with a certain sense of control, believing it had finally figured some things out.

For example, how to wage war with hardly anyone on our side getting killed? We did it in forcing the last Yugoslav troops out of Kosovo in 1999 - America's century, truly - only to rediscover in the 2000s that our troops bleed, too.

Heading into the 2010s, at least we know how quickly the calculus can change.

From complacent to terror-struck in a day.

A spirited, historic city on the Gulf coast, deluged and rotting in a week.

Anyone see any of it coming?

Erased in one election season were doubts of those older than 50 that an African-American could win the White House in their lifetimes.

And gone in the course of a few quarterly reports - about half of the values of our retirement and college funds.

Now the stock market is creeping back up anew. Wall Street bankers are tossing out huge bonuses again.

Things will surely ease back to the familiar, no?

"That sense of vulnerability never goes away, even if good times follow," said Wayne Fields, a professor of American culture studies at Washington University in St. Louis. "People who have gone through a crisis never forget it.

"Culturally, we might want to forget. But individually, we don't."

Think back to the sunset of the 1990s, by no means a tranquil time. But amid boasts of "longest peacetime expansion" and just a little nervousness about "irrational exuberance," not even the infant Google could have recognized the phrases to come:

Hanging chad. 9/11. Shoe bomber. Shock and awe.

SARS. Katrina's wake. YouTube, iPods and iPhones.

Most of us may never get our heads around toxic derivatives.

Whassup? That one took off as the '00s were just rolling out.

And goofy as it sounds, a lot are still asking - but the tone is hushed, even grave. Do we really want to know?

Iran with a bomb? Drinkable water as precious as gasoline in parts of the world? The oceans' wild fish stocks collapsing completely?

Will a nation where eating has become an extreme sport turn away from supersized? Or will our liposuctioned fat fuel the next generation of cars? Four-dollar gasoline must be out there plotting a return.

Chances are that the next decade will see body-implanted communication devices or entrenched high-jobless rates like those of Europe.

Perhaps Wall Street banks will get small enough to fail again; maybe General Motors will get back on top. More windmills? For sure. More nuclear plants? Maybe.

Who knows? We might even be able to board a flight with a water bottle again.

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