ANNAPOLIS - The state capital attracted the usual suspects - lawmakers and lobbyists - this fall to tackle Maryland's deficit woes. But the real arm-twisting there occurred in the run-up to the special Mideast peace conference at the Naval Academy, when Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice persuaded various Arab heads of state to attend the Mideast summit and support renewed talks between Israel and the Palestinians.
BUPE - It's not a magic potion or a sure-fire cure for addiction to heroin or prescription painkillers, but buprenorphine is still a promising antidote. It's perhaps inevitable that some pills fall into the hands of black marketers, but that just calls for better monitoring - by doctors and law enforcement - rather than depriving would-be recovering addicts of its potential.
COMMISH - He's a plainspoken cop, new Baltimore Police Commissioner Fred Bealefeld. He has to be smart about deploying his resources and consistent in his efforts to prevent the violent-prone from adding to the weekly toll of murder and shooting victims. His success relies as much on his partners - federal and state prosecutors, to name two - as his force of men and women.
DORACON - The construction firm is the latest recipient of a state prosecutor's subpoena in the never-ending inquiry into doings at City Hall and the activities of Sheila Dixon, going back to her tenure as City Council president. The subpoena landed just days before Ms. Dixon was sworn in as mayor.
ER, UM - The writers' strike took the words right out of the mouths of TV stars. The nation survived its rerun-filled evenings, but reality TV deserves a hiatus more.
FENWAY SOUTH - Another record-breaking season for the O's. Out went Sam Perlozzo. In came Dave Trembley, and the team promptly recorded baseball's biggest defeat in more than a century. Aren't steroids supposed to improve performance? At least the Red Sox fans who flocked to Camden Yards had reason to cheer. Just don't get us started on the Ravens' losing season.
GRASMICK - Just what Maryland needs: a state school superintendent and a governor who can't stand each other. No one thinks this is about the children.
HABEAS - How do you get the kangaroo out of a court once it has taken up residence? America's finest legal minds haven't come up with an answer to that one yet, though years have now rolled by since the Gitmo prison camp was set up, torture and hearsay were ushered in, and the principle of habeas corpus was thrown out. The Supreme Court may have something to say about it in 2008.
ILLEGALS - Twelve million people living in a kind of American limbo represent the thorniest domestic policy issue of the year. No solution emerged beyond a border fence that is not only impractical but also a bit after the fact.
JERK - Don Imus was among the worst of this year's crop of ill-behaved celebrities, but he was hardly alone. Let's just say it was a good year for detoxing the rich and famous.
KIMCHI DIPLOMACY - South Korea got a new conservative president, who said he'd be more skeptical when it comes to the other Korean president - the one with the nukes that he apparently hasn't decommissioned quite on schedule. Still, rail and commercial links flourished.
LATTER-DAY SAINTS - Religion played a starring role in the long prelude to next year's Republican primaries, with former preacher Mike Huckabee showcasing his Baptists beliefs and Mitt Romney trying to allay concerns about his Mormon background.
MORTGAGE - What a mess, as Americans' reliance on subprime mortgages turned out to be a financial misstep for many and a fast track to foreclosure for others. Now the whole economy is on the brink of recession.
NEVER MIND - Iran may have evil intentions. But a nuclear weapons program? Not so much. American intelligence agencies decided they had pretty good evidence that there used to be one, but that it was mothballed several years ago. Accurate or not, it makes war-mongering a lot harder.
OSLO - It was a year of sweet vindication for former Vice President Al Gore, whose once-ridiculed campaign to reduce the man-made emissions that speed global warming earned him a Nobel Peace Prize and the credibility to chastise George Bush for blocking progress.
PEDAGOGY - The new top educator in town, Andres Alonso, didn't come in with lofty academic theories blazing, but with stubborn determination to refocus attention on the critical classroom interactions between students and teachers. He embarked right away on a battle with the teachers' union over planning time.
QUIET - The mayhem in Baghdad has trailed off significantly. Can Iraq now be considered a success? Well, would anyone in 2003, peering into the future, have imagined that after nearly five years of cruel and devastating bloodshed that brought bitter divisions and drove 2 million refugees out of the country, and with America's reputation in tatters, a still quite violent Iraq could be thought of as a success?
REALIGNMENT - The expected increase of federal workers to Maryland has the state, counties and Baltimore realigning their priorities on roads, development and school construction. But they also may need to temper their expectations; it's not at all clear how many of the transferred jobs from New Jersey and northern Virginia will actually result in transplants to Maryland.
SCHIP - Renewal of a popular health care program for children of the working poor got snagged in an ideological (and one-upmanship) battle between President Bush and Congress.
TAINTED - What's in all that stuff that flows across America's borders and into its stores every day? Too much lead, it turns out, and assorted other contaminants and carcinogens. The FDA has a plan that would rely heavily on private enterprise to police the suppliers, the worst of whom seem to be Chinese - if only because China is such a major source of American imports. Maybe the government really should have a role.
UNCONTROLLED BURN - The practice of sending Baltimore Fire Department cadets into a fire set in a vacant rowhouse ended this year after a 29-year-old recruit died on the scene of a live burn that had been spectacularly and unconscionably mismanaged.
VLT'S - It took a special session of the legislature, a projected $1.7 billion deficit, a willingness to raise taxes and, yes, a Democratic governor with an actual work ethic, but Maryland might finally get the dreaded video lottery terminals (aka slot machines) - if voters embrace them next fall.
WIDE STANCE - After three decades in politics, Idaho Sen. Larry Craig is almost certain to be best remembered for an encounter with an undercover cop in an airport men's room. Stumbling explanations, an anti-gay voting record and utter abandonment by his Republican colleagues provided such rich material for satirists of all stripes that it seemed no one could resist.
XMARKS THE SPOT - This is becoming an annual entry: Osama bin Laden remains at large. Someday, someone will bring him to justice. But when? And who?
YES MAN - Alberto R. Gonzales, the man who said yes to torture, yes to domestic spying and yes to firing U.S. attorneys for political reasons, finally said yes to stepping down. Yes!
ZELL - The parent company of this newspaper was taken private by a rough-and-ready commercial real estate tycoon who's enthusiastic about the future of print. Here's hoping.