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December 28, 2005

The mandatory review column

Now that Christmas once again has been saved from the secularists, we turn to New Year’s, another holiday that has evolved over time. That’s right, Jan. 1 has not always been the first day of the New Year, not to speak of a day worthy of hangovers.

According to Information Please, the Mesopotamians celebrated a form of New Year in the spring, coinciding with the vernal equinox. Later, the Egyptians, Phoenicians and Persians (and presumably the Israelites, since the Hebrew calendar begins in the fall) started their year around the autumnal equinox.

The first people to mark the New Year on Jan. 1 were the Romans, who matched it up with the beginning of the terms of the Roman consuls. It was not until the Gregorian calendar reform of 1582 that Jan. 1 was routinely celebrated as New Year’s Day, but the stubborn Brits did not recognize that day until 1752. Fortunately, today even Jews and African Americans agree with Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell that Jan. 1 is an appropriate time to wish your friends and neighbors — or your customers, if you’re working at Target — “Happy New Year!” and not worry about insulting them.

Therefore, Happy New Year to all of you, Romans and Persians, every one.

The new year is that special time when everyone in the media is obsessed with reviews and predictions. That, of course, is because our elected officials, the president and Cindy Sheehan are all at home, not taking calls or causing trouble, so in the spirit of the season, we essentially re-gift the information we have been dealing with for the past 12 months.

Not to be outdone, I have reviewed my last 52 columns in an effort to make some sense of the past and give you a hint of what is to come in 2006.

Difficult as it may be to believe, neither George W. Bush nor golf was my favorite topic during 2005. That distinction went, broadly speaking, to religion, which seemed to inject itself into a number of front-page stories during the year. Early in the year the context was the Terri Schiavo case, in which some conservative religious forces tried to bully politicians and courts into keeping a brain-dead woman alive. Here in Louisville, the Schiavo case precipitated the bizarre “Justice Sunday” program at Louisville’s Highview Baptist Church. That was the nationally televised program aimed at intimidating the federal court system.

Next came two Supreme Court nominations — the confirmed John Roberts and the short-circuited Harriet Miers — that seemed to turn on the extent to which their religious beliefs would affect their judicial temperament.

U.S. Supreme Court decisions sent a mixed message on whether the Ten Commandments can be displayed in public buildings. And most recently, the seemingly eternal battle between evolution and the Bible continued in arguments over the concept of Intelligent Design. I suspect we’re due more of the same in 2006.

Privacy also was a frequent topic last year. In addition to the Schiavo case, we battled over renewal of the Patriot Act, argued over the Bush administration’s use of surveillance technologies on American citizens, debated the rights of New York Times reporter Judith Miller to protect her confidential sources and litigated the issue of whether citizens have the right to use medical marijuana. Abortion rights, of course, continue to be the most difficult of national privacy issues.

Surprisingly, I only wrote one column about Iraq, although the American presence there, and the domestic political ramifications of our involvement, were mentioned on several occasions. I also found reasons to write lone columns about Kentucky Gov. Ernie Fletcher’s legal and political problems, U of L football coach Bobby Petrino, public broadcasting, plans for a new Louisville arena, Bush’s Social Security “reform” (laugh, laugh) proposal, Hunter Thompson, the John Ziegler-Darcie Divita case, my son, and my late father.

Other than the last two, I think my favorite column of the year was one of my first. It was a suggested text for President Bush’s “State of the Union” address, which will be one of 2006’s first important stories.

It prophetically began, “Mr. Maybe-Next-Chief-Justice, members of my Royal Family, my supporters in the Congress and all the rest of you rich white guys.”

Continuing: “We have accomplished a lot in the last four years. We have secured America’s future, strengthened our economy, created new jobs, and a lot of other things that are sewn on the big curtains behind me whenever I speak.

“In the next four years we will promote an ownership society, end lawsuit abuse, protect American jobs and say many other catchy phrases that the writers and seamstresses are working on. I can’t wait to practice enunciating them.”

And I cannot wait to make fun of them.

Contact the writer at jyarmuth@aol.com