updated 12/30/2005 9:55:32 AM ET 2005-12-30T14:55:32

Guest: Craig Crawford

KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST:  Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow?

Karl Rove urged a rave against critics.  Dan Bartlett urged quotation of the realities and setbacks.  Competing advice to President Bush on how to pull his Iraq reputation out of free fall.

Nobody said, Hey, go on “Survivor.”  Turns out that's an option too.

A new option for airport screeners, talk to passengers to see if they might be terrorists.  See if they sound anxious or nervous.  Yes, you never find anybody at an airport who's anxious or nervous.

The age-old conundrum comes to post-Katrina New Orleans.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Physically creating (INAUDIBLE) to come see Katrina damage?  That's pathetic.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  But tourists spend money, and money rebuilds.  Ask downtown Manhattan.

Happy happy joy joy, the Secret Society of Happy People picks its top 10 happy moments of the year --  Wait, the Secret Society of Happy People?

We pick our top moments too, including a late entry, the football bowl game that ended last night with 426 players on the field.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  And the ball game ends on the Blue Diamond Almonds' nuttiest play of the game.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Thank goodness you got that sponsorship in, buddy.

All that and more, now on COUNTDOWN.

Good evening.

Les Moonves, take note, 33 percent of those Americans surveyed by “Parade” magazine say they would like to see President George W. Bush appear on “Survivor,” and for one simple reason, so that he could be the first contestant voted off the island.

Our fifth story on the COUNTDOWN, presidential survival.  While a reality show faceoff may not actually be on Mr. Bush's calendar, new garden-variety poll numbers out tonight, the serious kind, suggesting that the president's political free fall may not be over,  not yet, anyway.

Fewer than half of those surveyed by Gallup for “USA Today” offering a favorable opinion of the president as a person, 53 percent unfavorable, the worst rating yet of the Bush presidency.  That's a new kind of ratings slide for him.

His personal approval has always been stronger than his presidential approval, that skid proving today to have been the subject of an intense debate among his top advisers, “The Washington Post” reporting that two camps have formed inside the White House, Karl Rove advocating a campaign-style formula, attack, attack, and, in the spare time, attack some more.

Younger aides like communications director Dan Bartlett pushing for more candor about all that's going wrong in Iraq.

The result, in recent speeches, we have seen Mr. Bush doing a bit of both, lashing out at his critics as a kinder, gentler commander in chief.  As for whether or not it's working, small gains have been seen so far, the last batch of job approval numbers up slightly for the president, despite today's backslide on personal favorability.

And, by the way, that “Parade” magazine poll, yes, 33 percent would like to see Mr. Bush on the “Survivor” island so they could vote him off, but 35 percent would like to do exactly the same thing to Paris Hilton.

COUNTDOWN's favorable opinion of political analyst Craig Crawford, as always, is off the charts.  The “Congressional Quarterly” columnist joins us now.

Good evening, Craig.

CRAIG CRAWFORD, “CONGRESSIONAL QUARTERLY”:  Hi, happy New Year, I don't know if that's politically correct, (INAUDIBLE)...

OLBERMANN:  And a belated merry Christmas to you, and don't you forget it.

CRAWFORD:  OK, (INAUDIBLE).

OLBERMANN:  All right.

CRAWFORD:  No war on New Year's here.

OLBERMANN:  Not yet, anyway.

Is the new and improved Bush approach on Iraq a little schizophrenic?  I mean, does “admit your mistakes” conflict with “TASER your enemies”?  Or is this the kind of, you know, layered strategy that might work in what we could describe as a fractious political environment?

CRAWFORD:  It's a good tactic to see what works.  They might have been gotten a little movement there.  There is the old, is it F. Scott Fitzgerald, said, There's a sign of intelligence, the ability to hold opposing thoughts in your mind without going insane?  Opposing strategies, you get a poll boost.

The problem is, you might get a short-term boost, there, Keith, but I have a feeling it's harder to get a long-term kick from that, if you're admitting mistakes.  Admitting mistakes is kind of a odd way to get a boost in approval.

OLBERMANN:  An artist is a man who can hold two fundamentally conflicting viewpoints on the same issue and still function, I think that's the Fitzgerald quote.

CRAWFORD:  All right.

OLBERMANN:  Didn't do his wife any good, if we're talking about that.

Should we be surprised, though, based on this “Washington Post” report, that Mr. Rove has been, to some degree, marginalized, that it no longer seems to be the choice in the White House of Karl's way or the highway?

CRAWFORD:  That is what struck me.  It suggests to me that people don't fear Karl Rove like they once did, because you didn't even see people off the record suggesting that Karl Rove's opinion about a strategy wasn't the dominant one, which was the gist of this article.  You know, these people weren't bold enough to actually be named in this article, so maybe they were hedging their bets.

OLBERMANN:  Yes, the threat of indictment is—always does take some of your power away from you, no matter what the context.

CRAWFORD:  That's true.

OLBERMANN:  The CIA leak investigation, the NSA spying fallout, these are the presidential wild cards, do we think, for the year ahead?  I mean, we know we're still going to be in Iraq, we know we'll still be cleaning up after Katrina, and we know there'll be new hurricanes in 2006.  Is what we do not know about those two investigations the real danger facing the administration as it plans ahead?

CRAWFORD:  CIA leak being a real wild card for the White House, because they don't know what this prosecutor Fitzgerald may do.  He holds all the cards there.  On the NSA, the dispute with Congress, if that's how it turns out, over presidential power in wartime, it depends on whether Republicans in Congress want to protect and defend their president, or protect their branch of government from his encouragement (ph) on it.

OLBERMANN:  Now, is it guaranteed to come up?  Is the NSA guaranteed to come up, or could that sputter?

CRAWFORD:  Well, there is a flashpoint.  I think the Samuel Alito hearing, Supreme Court nominee, which is coming up very soon, will be an opportunity for any senators who want to get into this to certainly get into it.  There are memos in his background where he's passed judgment on this idea of the president, whether or not president has authority to order warrantless seize—searches and surveillance.

So that will be an opportunity.  It could turn that hearing into something of a proxy for this debate.  And then later on, Congress may hold hearings specifically on this issue.

OLBERMANN:  And Iraq, obviously the speech a week and a half ago had a measure of reassurance.  But will reassuring the public be enough for very long?  Does it matter if there are no substantial gains on the ground, if troops do not start coming home before more of them are killed?

CRAWFORD:  The Iraq elections seemed to make a big impact.  People felt like that went pretty well.  I think the media treaded lightly on some of the tougher aspects of that story, some of the violence, assassination of candidates, also the fact that many, many of the American-backed candidates didn't do as well as hoped.

But on balance, it was seen as a good thing.  And that is what changed in the president's polls internally, the feelings about Iraq improved significantly because of those elections.

But there again, that shows how he's hostage to events, whether they're good or bad.  And the casualties aren't anywhere near Vietnam levels, and all the president has to do is keep this from becoming a full-blown antiwar movement a la Vietnam.

OLBERMANN:  But speaking of elections, 11 months and one week or so from now, there happens to be a series of them here.  Is the one thing that seems to be clear on the political horizon that—that the midterms are shaping up as a referendum on the president?  And will his party view it that way?  Will they want to avoid him?  What—how is that all going to shape out, including his involvement in the campaigns?

CRAWFORD:  That's a gut-check they'll have to make.  When things were looking bad for him, when he was really in the dumps in the polls, even folks like Senator Santorum, Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, managed not to show up onstage in his home state of Pennsylvania when the president went there.

Some polling showed that voters might hold it against their congressmen if they support the president on everything.  That is what they've got to change, and Republicans would rather have a popular president to run with, instead of running away from him.

OLBERMANN:  That will be a fascinating dynamic, and will grow so as the months elapse.

Craig Crawford...

CRAWFORD:  Yes, but it's pretty easy to watch too.  Just see if they show up with him when he (INAUDIBLE), when he comes to their districts.

OLBERMANN:  Very simple check.  If there's a photo-op and he's the only one in it, trouble.

Craig Crawford, of course, the author of “Attack the Messenger,” and once again, happy New Year.

CRAWFORD:  All right.

OLBERMANN:  Or else.

CRAWFORD:  Thanks.

OLBERMANN:  The official second term of the Bush administration, beginning with the inauguration that took place at the start of this year, but the unofficial midway mark was of September 11, 2001, most administration policy characterized now as being either pre-9/11 or post-9/11.

And none more so than the post-9/11 creation of the Transportation Safety Administration, charged with overhauling airport security in this country.  It has a new strategy, and it's all talk, literally.

If you plan to fly in 2006, there is a chance that the airport screener might start talking to you, and he or she will not just be making friendly chit-chat.  I don't know about you, but I feel safer already.

Our correspondent Tom Costello has the details.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TOM COSTELLO, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  For 15 years, Police Chief Steve Deal (ph) has worked DFW Airport in Dallas, canines, SWAT teams, and an eye for the suspicious.

CHIEF STEVE DEAL, DALLAS POLICE:  Abnormal behavior that singles that person out from the rest of the traveling public.

COSTELLO:  It's called behavior detection, and DFW police have been doing it for years, scanning the crowd, searching for clues to what a passenger's hidden motives may be.

RICK HAHN, FORMER FBI COUNTERTERRORISM EXPERT:  They would be looking for either nervous behavior, someone perhaps averting their eyes from the security personnel or physically appearing to be nervous.

COSTELLO:  And asking probing questions to see if passengers get rattled.

Now, the TSA plans to train its officers to do the same, looking for travelers who offer deceptive answers or appear anxious, and paying close attention to speech patterns and body language.

HAHN:  Those are definitely linked to criminal activity and to terrorism.

COSTELLO:  All part of the new TSA director's orders to make airport security more complex and less predictable.

KIP HAWLEY, TSA ADMINISTRATION:  We are very tuned in to the world environment, and we pay a lot of attention.  And we don't want to assume that one particular attack would be repeated in exactly the same way.

COSTELLO:  Intense questioning is common at airports overseas.  Shoe bomber Richard Reid was questioned so extensively, he missed his first flight from Paris to Miami.

But the ACLU is suing to stop the technique, saying it could lead to racial profiling.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  We have to train our officers to be acutely aware of diversity and be focusing on behavior of an individual.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  Tom Costello doing the talking and reporting for us there.

Also tonight, a new controversy in New Orleans, visitors touring the devastation left by the hurricane.  Is this helping the city recover, or is it profiteering off misery?

And from the year's saddest story to the happiest, as selected by the Secret Society of Happy People.  We will reveal its top pick of the year, also ours, when our COUNTDOWN-within-a-COUNTDOWN starts now.

The number 10 happiest story of the year on their list going to the people of Mink, Louisiana, all 15 families.  Phone service finally arrived in the Louisiana town, and the first phone call came from Governor Blanco of Louisiana, advising residents to sign up for the do-not-call list.

You are watching COUNTDOWN on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  More than a decade ago, a not-very-well-received TV-movie called “Disaster in Time” posited future ghoulish tourists who travel back through history to witness things like the “Hindenburg” disaster, or the destruction of Pompeii.

Our number-four story on the COUNTDOWN, the most plausible part of the film was the idea that, for as long as there would be man, he would rubberneck whenever his fellow men were destroyed or in endangered.

Two stories of that tonight, including resistance to it in the wake of Katrina in New Orleans.

But first, to Don Teague in Cross Plains, Texas, where the most vivid of disasters continues to come sweepin' down the plains—fire.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DON TEAGUE, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  Just as officials feared, strong winds kicked up again today in Texas and Oklahoma.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  (INAUDIBLE) dropping water again coming across there.

TEAGUE:  In Oklahoma County, 30-mile-per-hour gusts fueled another destructive fire, flames racing across bone-dry brush, destroying hundreds of acres, and threatening homes.  With fire advancing toward his horses, this rancher cut a hole in the fence so they could run for their lives.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  We don't want it to get any further to the west.

TEAGUE:  In Texas, a new wildfire today near Austin.  It was contained after burning 50 acres.

And in Cross Plains, the fire that's already claimed entire neighborhoods kept firefighters busy battling flare-ups.  Officials revised the number of homes destroyed in this small town to 116, double the original estimate, bringing the total of homes lost statewide to nearly 200.

GOV. RICK PERRY ®, TEXAS:  There are a lot of families in this community that are without, without a home, without any of the things that they had two days ago.

TEAGUE (on camera):  Cross Plains has never been a wealthy town.  Officials say with 25 to 30 percent of the community's homes in ashes, the town's very survival is now at risk.

MONTY RICHARDS, CROSS PLAINS RESIDENT:  God-fearing Christians, hardworking individuals that basically worked for everything they got.

TEAGUE:  Still, hard work can't make it rain.  With the region in the grips of extreme drought, Governor Perry has deployed additional ground and air assets, and, with New Year's Eve this weekend, the governor is asking counties statewide to ban all fireworks.

PERRY:  Be careful out there.  Texas truly is a tinderbox at this (INAUDIBLE) point in time.

TEAGUE:  And, forecasters say, it's going to be a dry, windy winter.

Don Teague, NBC News, Cross Plains, Texas.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  And now to disasters of the recent past, and the American ability—or, we might say, the American need—to transform them into money-making enterprises.  We were well into the 20th century before some of the older citizens of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, stopped resenting the idea that people would tramp through their town to see the Civil War battle site.  And when, early in 2002, the city of New York opened a viewing platform next to ground zero, there was also confused feelings.

And now, as our correspondent Ron MOTT reports, all of those mixed emotions have come to New Orleans.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

RON MOTT, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  The beignets are back, so is the Cajun flavor.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Knock-knock.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  (INAUDIBLE), who's there?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Wednesday.

MOTT:  Even corny jokesters.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Well, Wednesday's (INAUDIBLE).

MOTT:  And tourists are returning to New Orleans for a taste of it all, and they mean all, because what some of them want most is a sampling of Katrina, snapshots, they say, of history and the city's now-infamous levees.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  And you can see the way the water came.

MOTT:  Then there's Isabelle Cossert's (ph) tour business, which took a hit during the storm, and so she's hitting back with Katrina disaster tours.

VIVIAN REYNARD, TOURIST:  You cannot conceive of it until you're standing in it.

MOTT:  It's a twist that could help restore some of the 1 billion tourism dollars already lost here.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  This hole was not that wide.

MOTT:  These disaster tours are not just for Mom-and-Pop operations like Isabelle's.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I want to welcome you personally.  My name is Joe.

MOTT:  Even big tour companies like Gray Line see Katrina as a potential blockbuster, proclaiming it “America's worst catastrophe.”  It may be a sign of the times, but it's a sign not welcomed by everyone.

MICHELLE FALLON, DISPLACED NEW ORLEANS RESIDENT:  Physically creating tours to come see Katrina damage, that's pathetic.

MOTT (on camera):  Businesses like the House of Blues, that depend on a thriving tourism industry, say the important thing is to get tourists back no matter what.

(voice-over):  And they're counting on the first live show since Katrina tonight to start drawing them back to this institution.

LAURA TENNYSON, HOUSE OF BLUES:  It's almost sold out, so we're really encouraged by that.

MOTT:  Encouragement that's apparently spreading across the country as more tourists arrive.

STEPHEN PERRY:  Maybe the most patriotic act an American could engage in next year is coming back to New Orleans.

MOTT:  A city hoping that red, white, and some blues will turn this the color of money.

Ron Mott, NBC News, New Orleans.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  No mixed emotions about this, the oddest Oddball moment of 2005.  All you need is a girl band, a Japanese TV network, a lizard, and some pork chops.

Maybe all those things could explain what happened at a college football bowl game.  Is it just me, or does Nebraska have 47 guys on the field here?

And as we count down to the happiest moment of the year, time to reveal number nine on their list.  Oprah, Dave.  Dave, Oprah.  After 16 years of begging, Oprah Winfrey returns to “The Late Show,” to say nothing of David Letterman's biggest ratings in more than a decade.

COUNTDOWN continues after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Back now, and we pause this day's real news to illuminate that which others prefer to keep in darkness.  Some video clips are born great, some achieve greatness, and others have greatness thrust upon them.

And there's this one, which is all three.  But a warning, the following video may be unsettling if you're easily disturbed by images of Japanese bubble-gum pop girl band members with pork chops strapped to their heads, then put in a big glass box with a hungry lizard, all on live television.

No, I'm just kidding.  It's nothing like that.

We present in its entirety and without commentary, and for the final time this year, COUNTDOWN's top Oddball moment of 2005, the Japanese reality TV pork chop show.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  No way!  No way!  No way!

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Go away!  Go away!

No!  No!

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  He's heading right for her.  He's heading for Abe. 

He's going to Abe!  He's going to Abe!

Abe, Ogawi, Yasuda, keep your head up!

Go on!  Stay in!

That's it!

She ran away!

Izam is heading back that way.

Izam-san is taking off!  He's taking off!

He's going to fall!  He's going to fall!

Izam is falling!

The studio is in a panic!

Everyone's panicking!

Everyone's panicking!  Yasuda has run away!

Izam-san is taking off!  He's taking off!

He's going to fall!  He's going to fall!

Izam is falling!

Izam-san is taking off!  He's taking off!

He's going to fall!  He's going to fall!

The studio is in a panic!

Izam-san is taking off!  He's taking off!

He's going to fall!  He's going to fall!

Izam is falling!

The studio is in a panic!

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  There's always panic in our studio.  Don't worry, the animals coming up in our Oddballpalooza are much easier to get along with, just don't make eye contact.

And as we edge closer to the top happy story of '05, number eight out of 10, Danica Patrick races at the INDY 500.  We said they were picked as happy stories.  We never said they were interesting.

First, our list of COUNTDOWN's top three newsmakers of this day.

Number three, Jim Jensen of Spanish Fort, Utah.  He's the owner of a herd of 140 prized show sheep.  That's right, like show dogs, only sheep. 

But somehow a neighbor's dog got loose and by himself chased all 140 of the

sheep onto the Union Pacific Railroad line.  The dog kept them at bay until

·         Well, you can guess what happened.

And yes, they have shot the dog.

Number two, Tom Cruise, voted by the readers of the British magazine “Empire” as the most irritating actor in the last 16 years.  For the record, Jennifer Lopez was second, Julia Roberts third, and Adam Sandler fourth.  Then again, these readers voted for, as their favorite male actor of the last 16 years, Kevin Spacey.  Nothing against Kevin Spacey, but even he'd say, Kevin Spacey?

Anyway, number one, Crystal Rozell of Saratoga Springs, New York.  She called up an 85-year—old man in Illinois the other day and inadvertently saved his life.  He'd fallen in the snow outside his home, had managed to drag himself inside, and, to his horror, discovered his phone line was on the fritz.  He could not place any outgoing calls, he could not call 911.

Ms. Rozell's call was the first he'd received all that day.  She then called the authorities and saved his life.  And why was Ms. Rozell calling this 85-year-old man in Illinois?  Because she's a telemarketer.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  I believe it was H.L. Mencken who said there were really only two kinds of stories worthy of journalistic inquiry, animal stories and giant food stories.

Our third story on the COUNTDOWN tonight, since there were no giant food stories and precious other news today, here's a bonus edition of “Oddball” devoted entirely to our four-legged furry friends.  No charge.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN (voice-over):  We begin in Oakland, Maryland, for the opening day of the extremely controversial bear hunting season.  Hundreds of hunters entering the woods of western Maryland in an attempt to lower the population of black bears in the area.  And today the first bear was brought down by an eight-year-old girl named Sierra Styles (ph) and isn't she precious?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I like animals, but that was - it really made me happy to get one.

OLBERMANN:  Daddy's little princess gave the 200 pound bear both barrels in the chest for a first ever kill.  A special moment in any eight-year-old girls life.

And we begin in Scacuse (ph), Oregon.  There's a moose loose in Scacuse.  It's a bear, actually, but bear doesn't rhyme.

We begin down under, where one little Australian kitty cat is doing what 32 percent of the country's human population has trouble with, using the toilet to do his dirty, dirty business.

The United Arab Emirates, where they're so rich they've got robots to ride on camels.

We know she has the tank to herself, because she's being shell fish.

Surfing mice.  Alert your friends and loved ones.  If your children are sleeping, wake them up, you'll never forgive yourself if you let them miss this.

GEORGE W. BUSH, U.S. PRESIDENT:  What is it we have here?  Perhaps this is a case of sibling rivalry.

OLBERMANN:  I, for one, would like to welcome our crab overlords.

All hail Ahn Sanh Gyu (ph), master beekeeper.  Sanh Gyu?  No!  Sanh Gyu.  See Sanh Gyu do pushups covered with bees, see him ride a bike with bees, see him run screaming away and jump into a lake.

This is more my speed.  Mongo like Sheriff Bart.  Carlis (ph), Louisiana, home of Teeny Swoop and Buck.  That's not three people, Teeny Swoop is the guy.  The steer is Buck.  Folks in town called Teeny the steer whisperer.  That's what they call him to his face.  He's said he's managed to tame the bull and rides him around town and puts those balls on his horn to prove it.  No complaints from old Buck thus far, because he's biding his time.  Then one day Teeny's going to get it.  Ah, yes.  Teeny will get it good.

Knoxville, Tennessee, it's Sniffles the bunny.  He received this handsome certificate from the “Guinness Book of World Records” today as the world's oldest living rabbit.  He is so old he used to dance the Charleston with Bubba the lobster back in the '20s.  Actually, he's dated 14 years.  Karen Mills (ph) of Knoxville bought Sniffles for her son in 1991, crediting his long life to a steady diet of French fries and arthritis medicine.

But is you (ph) in Brookfield, Illinois, Stormy the groundhog apparently saw his shadow and was totally embarrassed by his enormous, crooked choppers, so they're going to give him braces.  No, I'm not kidding.  Apparently Stormy was having trouble chewing his food, plus, when he smiled it looked like he was throwing gang signs.  Zookeepers say Stormy's teeth should be nice and straight for Groundhog Day 2006 and maybe they can get to work on that hideous hairdo.  Mullet.

We're back with our nightly segment full of stupid stories and weird animal video.  Don't laugh, this is up for a Peabody Award.  Or is it Polk Award.  The Jimmy Dean Pork Sausage Award.  Never mind.

We begin at the restaurant in Seoul, South Korea.  On the menu, elephants.  Elephants.  Six of them escaped from a nearby amusement park.  Two, who obviously heard about the great kimchee they serve at this joint because they have mashed through the big plate glass window out front and come in for lunch.  No, they didn't have a reservation.  Table in the back, please.

Slightly south and west to Shanghai, in China for the first Swine Olympiad.  Dozens of children and parents on hand for the games, which featured pigs in obstacle course competing in various events of sprinting, hurdles and swimming events.  I said swimming events.  Come on, get in there.  These kids didn't pay to see you gradually turning into bacon, you know.  Come on!  The facility here was formerly used for a dolphin show, but finances were tight, so they got the next best thing, pigs.  Each little piggy tried his hardest but at the end of the day, only one could call himself a Gold Medal Ham.

That's Romeo, a 33-pound load of a cat who has been sitting in the animal shelter eating bonbons and waiting to be adopted.  Don't do that, you can start an earthquake!  He's about three times the size the cat of a normal cat.  He's so fat, even his fur has stretch marks.  I tell you, I get no respect.  But a friendly local family finally decided to take in the tubby tabby this week.  They say they want to get him down to about 20 pounds, so they put him on a diet of subway sandwiches for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

But officials say the video is no fake.  He is the first documented lesser panda to stand up straight.  Most of them obviously have bad posture.  They say at night he rides a unicycle and deals poker to the kangaroos, but they don't have that on tape, either.  That is a guy in a suit, come on.  Guy in a suit.

I'm not really sure how Elsie managed to swallow a 13 inch knife.  I'm even more confused about the fact that she was completely uninjured and didn't mention anything to anybody.  The doctors performed a two-hour surgery to remove the knife, which is good because waiting for nature to take its course would have doubtless been a huge mistake.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  And so they are, off.  And so they are.

OLBERMANN:  What's new pussy cat.  Whoa-oh-oh-oh-oh-oh.  Help me, stop singing and help me.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Try to pick them up here when they come out of the

·         yes, there they go.

OLBERMANN:  Oh, give me a home where the buffalo roam.  And the deer and the antelope play mixed doubles.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  It's just so thick, they crossed under the finish line.  I couldn't tell one from another.

OLBERMANN:  From Florida to North Carolina, beachgoers have been quite taken with the lion fish's beautiful rainbow of colors and spots.  But don't kid yourself, Jimmy, if the lion fish got the chance, he would kill you and everyone you care about.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I think it was Bortz (ph) in front, may have been number five, Coeus.  Oh.  They have Coeus in front.

OLBERMANN:  But wildlife officials wonder, can a turtle that's been around since the Chester A. Arthur administration and hippo fat enough to crush a coconut live together without driving each other crazy?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  And here they come.  It's going to be close.  I think it was number four.  I'm not sure.  But it was a hell of a race.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  And our bonus “Oddball” coverage continues tonight with a salute to Florida.  The Sunshine State because the sun shines out of their march to the happiest story of the year.  It now stops at number seven out of 10, release of the “Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith” film, finally revealing why Darth Vader is a heavy breather.

If you're not liking the happy list so far, wait until you see our happiest pick.

As ever, something in the waning days of the year gets added to all of those best of lists.  How football's Alamo Bowl ended last night, Nebraska 32, Michigan 28, that was the final score and perhaps the number of players each team had on the field in the most bizarre ending to a football game in more than 20 years.

But the finale becomes our “Soundbite of the Day” not because of the football but because of the radio announcers from Michigan, Frank Beckmann and Jim Branstater (ph).  Due to a shift in stations carrying the Michigan broadcast it may have been Mr. Beckmann's last game.  If so, in his last moment, he remembered where the bread is buttered.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

FRANK BECKMANN, COMPANY MAN:  All right.  Last play of the game right here.  Henny's (ph) got the snap.  Three man rush.  He's set.  He fires underneath.  And here comes the hook and lateral.  It's Aban (ph) to Manningham (ph), now back to Aban (ph) again.  Aban throwing it across the field on a lateral to Manningham at the 45.  He breaks to the right and he's got nobody behind him.  And Mannigham is lateraling it to—they're going backwards.  Aban will heave it back across the field and caught by Behl, he is hit, fumbles the ball and the Wolverines pick it up and Hartz (ph) running with it.  Nebraska has got the whole team on the field and Michigan.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  They haven't blown the whistle.

BECKMANN:  No.  Racing up the right side line, Tyler Hackler (ph) to the 15 yard line and knocked out of bounds.  Now the whole Nebraska team is on the field.  Clearly they have too many men on the field.  Now, did they ever blow it dead is the question—I'm assuming they did.  Because the officials are running off the field.

As the ballgame ends on the Blue Diamond Almonds Nuttiest Play of the Game, Nebraska wins the Alamo Bowl, by the final score of 32-28.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Your faithful COUNTDOWN staff here concocted something like 270 newscasts this year.  That's 11 days and four hours worth.  At that volume one begins to notice trends.  For instance, so many strange stories originate in Vienna, that we have begun to doubt their veracity.  We think somebody is making them up there.

Of course, as our number two story suggests, right now there's some newscaster is Austria saying the same thing about all those wacky stories from Florida.  Day in and day out, no state delivers more crazy news items than Florida.  It has become its own category of weirdness.  Maybe it's the year-around sunshine, something in the water, maybe it's all just a strange coincidence.

I mean, face it, wildlife officials in Alaska are not going to come across a scene of a python that exploded after trying to eat an alligator.  Eww.

And pet store robberies.  Where are the cameras in the cages to give us shots like this.  It could happen probably anywhere, yoink, but they don't happen just anywhere.  Time after mind-boggling time the freaky stuff happens in Florida, which is why we say thank you, Florida.  Thank you.  If for the not for your inordinate amount of strange people, weird animals, crazy video and dumb criminals, COUNTDOWN itself would not be possible.  Florida, we salute you.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

(MUSIC)

OLBERMANN (voice-over):  America, US&A.  Here at COUNTDOWN we love each and every state in the union for all the wonderful stories they bring us, from the runaway brides of Georgia to the celebrity trials of California, from the prison camps of West Virginia, to the sexually unfocused mayors of the great Northwest.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I don't deny that.

OLBERMANN:  Each state has something to offer COUNTDOWN, but one state in particular seems to bring more to the table time after lovable time.  It's the states that brought us count and recount, the pregnant, dimpled, hanging and regular chad, Katherine Harris, Bush beat Gore itself.

The state that brought us the midnight raid of Elian Gonzales, the state that brought us the Schiavo saga and it is the state that brings us more crazy news that we can shake a rundown at.  It's Florida, 900 miles of gator, tape and doctor-shopping, tiger gropin', mullet wearing, kitty snatching, Virgin Mary sandwich selling COUNTDOWN contributors.

When network news anchors want to get ripped around in a storm, they head to Florida.  When Vanilla Ice loses his wallaroo, which state does he lose it in?  Florida!  When the president courts those NASCAR dads .

BUSH:  Start your engines!

OLBERMANN:  When he wants to listen to his iPod during a debate, where does he go?  Florida.  When dumb criminals with dumb hairdos get drunk and ride scooters, where does it happen?  Florida.

UNIDENTIFID MALE:  You try driving a Go-Ped (ph) drunk.  It's impossible.

OLBERMANN:  When you need a robotic rasta refrigerator to bring you cool beers, where can you find it?  Florida.  When Donald Trump gets married, again, where does he get married?  Florida.

When Fifi and Toto the dogs get married, where do they get married?  Florida.  When an Orange County sheriff's deputy uses an elevator as a Port-a-John, Florida.  When amateur dentists decide to open a practice in a garage, Florida.  When sumo wrestlers go street surfing, get caught and aren't worried about the charges .

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I've got a great lawyer and a lot of money, so I don't really care a whole lot.

OLBERMANN:  Florida.  When Fidel Castro gets prank called, who's on the line?  Florida.

Car chases, blown up bridges, alligators, sharks, manatees, even Tarzan's tiger.  Florida, our most favoritest peninsula in the whole wild world, including Wangaparela (ph) Peninsula in New Zealand.  When it comes to the news we here at COUNTDOWN use, Florida is numero uno.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  Florida is the state that made us the happiest in 2005.  Also tonight, the happiness inducing people like that woman.  And as for the happy stories of the year, from the secret society of happy people, there number six out of 10, Harvard University appointing a fun czar, a term the Harvard newspaper described as “infamous.”

Back to our own list.  Today's three nominees for COUNTDOWN's worst person in the world, bronze winners.  Donovan Blackburn, city manager of Pikeville, Kentucky.  How do we improve conditions there, he wonders?  Aha, he concludes, talk a coal company into mining and then knocking down two of the mountaintops that surround the town.  More money, more room for houses, and of course, more chances of ecological disaster.

Tonight's runner-up, Juan Reyes, a 37-year-old baby sitting two toddlers in Patchog (ph) on Long Island, New York.  Mr. Reyes was discovered passed out and drunk and the two-year-old child was having more trouble standing than usual and his breath smelled of alcohol.  Mr. Reyes has been arrested.

But the winner, the police officer Jared Wingland (ph) of Chicago and his two brothers.  They were looking at pictures of a bank robbery taken by surveillance cameras when one of them looked at the silver-plated gun the robber was holding and said something like isn't that the gun we gave dad last year in and another one looked at the robber and said something like, isn't that dad holding it?  The Winglands promptly gave up their 64-year-old father to the authorities.  Well, Mr. Wingland (ph) was sentenced today to 40 years in jail after he was turned in by my three sons.  Today's worst persons in the world.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN (on camera):  Throughout the hour, we've been counting down the top 10 happiest stories of 2005 according to a group called the secret society of happy people.  So to our number one story on the COUNTDOWN tonight, the rest of their list and the rest of ours.  Number five on the secret society 2005 list, Disneyland celebrates its 50th anniversary.  One disappointment, of course, Walt Disney didn't de-ice himself and join the party.

Number four, emotion recognition software revealing that da Vinci “Mona Lisa” was 83 percent happy.  The other 17 percent was “I got a bus to catch Leonardo.”

Number three, the Chicago White Sox winning their first world series since 1917 lifted the nation's spirits no doubt.  Number two, researchers find happier people are healthier people.  So how do you explain the cranky old people then?  The number one happy story according to the secret society of happy people, a year full of natural disasters also triggered a worldwide outpouring donations and personal involvement to help millions of people recover, and there is really little argument with that point.

But, by the way, if I'm running Homeland Security and I hear about the secret society of happy people, I'm checking them out first.

And the COUNTDOWN staff second, but that's just because I know them.  We have our own happy 2005 list.  These are the best of the best in their fields of endeavor.  Speed Rubik's Cubing may be enough for other newscasts but here you have got to really impress us, use your feet.

Think you're a bad parent?  Taking your kid to the Wal-Mart at 3:00 in the morning isn't enough to catch our fancy.  Blowing the rent money trying to win him back from the claw machine he has crawled into, that is something special.

And did anybody on the happy list crazy glue her husband's private parts to his leg?  Did a small town sheriff do his very best to explain motive to the big city media?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  She found pubical (ph) hair on her viberator (ph) that did not belong to him.  And she was very upset about that.  That's why she did what she did.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMAN:  The pubical viberator.

These are the select few who not only get on the list but also get immediate induction into the COUNTDOWN Hall of Fame.  They've earned a direct ticket into the pantheon of legends.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

WILLIAM HUNG, CELEBRITY:  Good evening.

OLBERMANN (voice-over):  The Hall of Fame is a big imaginary building but not so big we could afford to devote an entire wing to just dumb criminals and another one to only wacky stunt men and a third to only drunken idiots who got themselves stuck in the trash can.  There's just not enough room, especially since we had to enlarge the animal wing accommodate the huge bouncing bear crowd.

So here in the Hall of Fame's great hall, yes, that's right, there's a hall inside the hall.

Bear with us here, each of these individuals whose bizarre actions have brought us joy, bewilderment to just great videotape over the years has its own little plaque.  It's here the COUNTDOWN Hall of Fame honors “The Legends.”

Who are these people?  Well, they're every man and every woman caught on tape in strange situations either of their own making or of someone else's.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  What are you talking about?  You're crazy.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  You're crazy!  You're crazy, man!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Did you just hit me?

OLBERMANN:  Perhaps they got drunk and did something stupid or perhaps they didn't get drunk at all and still did something stupid.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  There's a bubbling cauldron of hell I advise upon no human being on the face of the earth.  You'll die if you go down the falls.  I reached out and touched the face of God and he smiled.  Thank you.

OLBERMANN:  Or they're just run-of-the-mill weirdos and showoffs out for our attention.  We're not too proud to oblige if they make it strange enough.

Some of the legends are dumb criminals and some are really dumb criminals.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  You readily admitted your involvement to the robbery and stated you were forced into it to pay a drug debt.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I'm a drug dealer, not a bank robber.  I'm the one with the drugs.  He was the one who robbed me.  My co-defendant.  I'm the mother (EXPLETIVE DELETED) drug dealer.

OLBERMANN:  Some are television personalities.  Others are just personalities caught on television.

ELTON:  Pig.  Pig.  Pig.  Rude, wild pig.

OLBERMANN:  And one is here because he solved the COUNTDOWN magic equation.  High-pressure sales guy plus four-foot samurai sword plus live TV equals.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  The nice thing about the practice katanas, oh, oh that hurt.

OLBERMANN:  His partner entered the hall on the write-in ballot.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  We, um, we may need emergency surgery in the studio.

OLBERMANN:  Many of our legends are Guinness World Record holders as well.  You wouldn't believe how easy it is to get into that book.

Mixed in are the true stuntmen and the daredevils like the all-time great Felix Baumgardener (ph).  This guy goes out there and performs all manner of unsafe acts literally risking death on a regular basis and for what?  So we can have 30 more seconds of really cool video?  Felix, we salute you.

And we salute you, Miss Universe, the klutziest supermodel on earth.  We salute every celebrity who ever had a glamour shot taken at 3:0 a.m. in some Arizona drunk tank and we salute the true legends, those caught in unbelievable but un-filmed situations who later for some reason defying belief agreed to reenact the event for the cameras.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMEALE:  There was only one thing I had that I could use, my tongue.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  And as odd as this looks, with her hands and legs tied, Bennet-Lance (ph) called her office, not police for help.

OLBERMANN:  The hall honors all of these wild stunts, feats of strength, strange people and even stranger things they do.  You may call them dopes, you may call them maniacs or you may even call them common criminals, but here, here on this ground, we call them the legends.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Shut up.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN (on camera):  Be sure to tune in tomorrow evening at our regularly appointed hours at 8:00 and midnight Eastern,5:00 and 9:00 p.m.  Pacific for more of that which brings us joy, all the pubical stuff and the good viberations.

Our year end special, COUNTDOWN's “Favorite Things 2005.”  Be there. 

Aloha.  And finally, let's just admit this.  There was no news today.  Please rejoin your life already in progress.  That's COUNTDOWN.  I'm Keith Olbermann.  Keep your knees loose.  Good night and good luck.

Our MSNBC coverage continues now with LIVE AND DIRECT.  Jane Velez-Mitchell in for Rita tonight.  Good evening, Jane.

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

END   

Content and programming copyright 2005 MSNBC.  ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.  Transcription Copyright 2005 Voxant, Inc. ALL RIGHTS  RESERVED. No license is granted to the user of this material other than for research. User may not reproduce or redistribute the material except for user's personal or internal use and, in such case, only one copy may be printed, nor shall user use any material for commercial purposes or in any fashion that may infringe upon MSNBC and Voxant, Inc.'s copyright or other proprietary rights or interests in the material. This is not a legal transcript for purposes of litigation.

Watch Countdown with Keith Olbermann each weeknight at 8 p.m. ET

Discuss:

Discussion comments

,