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A Clunker of a Year

Tsutomu Yamaguchi, 93, was on a business trip in Hiroshima on Aug. 6, 1945. Three days later he was back home in Nagasaki. He also survived 2009. Common sense did not. In Black History Month, a.k.a. February, pupils at a Burlington, N.J., public elementary school sang, "Hello Mr. President/We honor you today/For all your great accomplishments/We all do say 'Hooray!' " So did a smitten Nobel committee.

For peace, not economics. For $3 billion, Cash for Clunkers moved many car sales from September to August. By law, the clunkers had to be junked, which boosted used-car prices, penalizing low-income people. Having used stimulus money to give raises to its 317 employees, Head Start in Augusta, Ga., reported 317 jobs created. A Georgia nonprofit multiplied the percentage of raises (1.84) it gave by the number of employees receiving them (508) and reported the stimulus had saved 935 jobs. What was stimulated, aside from bookkeeping nonsense, was demand for Ayn Rand's novel Atlas Shrugged, a hymn to unfettered capitalism. Sales exceeded 400,000, double the total in any of the 52 years since it was published.

America's most portentous domestic event of 2009 was California's deepening crisis, which may prefigure the nation's trajectory. Abroad, Montblanc, the Swiss penmaker, with its eye on the potential buyers in India, commemorated Mahatma Gandhi with a $23,000 pen engraved with the ascetic's image. In the mall beneath the Louvre, culture mavens now can dine at a McDonald's. Brown University's faculty voted to rename Columbus Day "Fall Weekend," presumably to punish the explorer for spoiling the Western Hemisphere paradise where human sacrifices were still happening when he arrived. The Empire State Building was bathed in red and yellow light to honor the 60th anniversary of China's regime, which is responsible for more deaths than Hitler and Stalin combined.

In 2009 the two most important unelected policymakers in Washington were put in their offices by George W. Bush: Ben Bernanke, chairman of the Federal Reserve, and Defense Secretary Robert Gates. In December there were more U.S. troops deployed in the two wars than there were in January. Iran, threatened with economic sanctions, announced plans to sharply increase its uranium enrichment. "North Korea," said Barack Obama in December, "must live up to its obligations." Must?

The London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine blamed obesity for global warming: Each fat person supposedly adds an extra ton of carbon dioxide every year because of respiration, and because of the carbon costs of raising and transporting the extra food he or she devours. Alarmingly, global warming took a sabbatical for another year: A report in the journal Science argued that warming is necessary to prevent a descent into a new Ice Age.

There were more minority children than white children in one sixth of America's counties. A national survey revealed that the West Coast has been surpassed by New England—where the Puritans landed for their errand into the -wilderness—as the least religious region.

When the Olympic Committee voted against Chicago, Indiana's Gov. Mitch Daniels wondered, "What is the world coming to when Chicago can't fix an election?" Atlanta, which is 57 percent black, came within 714 votes (out of 84,384 cast) of electing a white mayor. Forty-five years after three civil-rights workers were murdered in Philadelphia, Miss., that town elected a black mayor.

In the glandular lives of the famous, South Carolina's Gov. Mark Sanford walked the Appalachian Trail all the way to Argentina, and the golf achievements of Tiger Woods, the "insatiable links lecher" (the New York Post's words), suddenly seemed even more impressive, considering the other claims on his energies.

Pope Benedict XVI said scientific tests "seem to conclude" that bones found in a sarcophagus under a Rome basilica were those of the apostle Paul. The remains of a Union or Confederate Civil War soldier were buried with honors after being unearthed at a construction site in Franklin, Tenn., site of an 1864 battle that produced 9,000 casualties. Wounded in 1917 at Passchendaele, Harry Patch, Britain's last survivor of the World War I trenches, died at 111. Ray Nance, 94, was the last of the "Bedford boys" from the Virginia town that lost 22 sons in World War II. Millvina Dean, 97, the last of the Titanic's 705 survivors, was 9 weeks old when it sailed.

Perhaps Tsutomu Yamaguchi will survive 2010. Isn't it pretty to think so?

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