The Year of Our Lord 2008 was like most other years - only worse.
In Somalia, a thousand people packed into a stadium to witness the stoning of a 13-year-old girl. The local Islamic militia accused her of adultery because she had been raped by three men. Adultery is punishable by death under Islamic law, or sharia.
In Britain, the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Phillips, declared that Muslims should be able to maintain a separate legal system for resolving family and marital disputes according to sharia. Lord Phillips bravely noted, however, that flogging, amputating and stoning should be "out of the question" in the United Kingdom, which surely came as a relief to the country's Muslim rape victims.
Jurisprudence on the continent was similarly accommodating to faith in the public square. A judge in France annulled a Muslim marriage at the request of the husband, who was horrified to learn that his wife had lied about being a virgin.
There were no such legal victories for Islam in America, but there were some cultural triumphs. Random House pulled the plug on a novel titled
The Jewel of Medina
. Deputy publisher Thomas Perry explained that the company received "cautionary advice not only that the publication of this book might be offensive to some in the Muslim community, but also that it could incite acts of violence by a small, radical segment."
At the box office,
The Golden Compass
finished its North American run with $70 million. The movie was based on Philip Pullman's
His Dark Materials
novels, which some Christians consider offensive. The novels were published by Random House.
Law enforcement was arbitrary, too. In Atlanta, a woman vandalized some of the city's "Men at Work" signs to protest their sexism. Instead of charging her, the city volunteered to replace the offensive signs with new ones reading "Workers Ahead" - at a cost to taxpayers of $144 apiece.
Meanwhile, in Grafton, Wis., Heidi Dalibor made the mistake of having two overdue books from the town library. Police went to her home, cuffed her, stuffed her into the back of a cruiser, and took her downtown.
If only they had been sexist books.
America suffered through - and survived - its quadrennial ordeal. Elections, like wars, are divisive. The left and the media (the same thing in 2008) fretted about the dangerous, deranged anger of John McCain's supporters.
In Los Angeles, a scamp decorated his house with a mannequin dressed as Sarah Palin and strung up with a noose. Because Palin is white and Republican, the prank was viewed as neither particularly upsetting nor offensive.
The great William F. Buckley passed on in 2008. He founded the National Review and, as much as anyone, invented the modern conservative movement. Buckley was the kind of patrician-intellectual-adventurer who no longer exists outside F. Scott Fitzgerald novels. His son, the droll, preening novelist Christopher Buckley, waited until eight months after his father's death to endorse Barack Obama and then resign from the National Review.
In 2000, the wise and good American people rejected a serious politician with a varied record of actual accomplishments in favor of an ambitious, inexperienced one brimming with confidence about his superior judgment. In 2008, history repeated itself.
While still a one-term senator running for his party's nomination, Barack Obama told a prospective aide, "I think that I'm a better speechwriter than my speechwriters. I know more about policies on any particular issue than my policy directors. And I'll tell you right now that I'm gonna think I'm a better political director than my political director."
We revere sports in America partly because we believe they reveal character. During the presidential campaign, Obama often talked about his love of basketball. As a high school player, Obama said, he was always demanding more minutes from his coach. Today, he laughingly admits that he wasn't as good as he thought he was.
We can't say he didn't warn us.
In November, the people of Goodridge, Minn. (population 98), put America's grasping professional politicians to shame. The town's mayoral contest, pitting Bob Homme against Dave Brown, was deadlocked at 22 votes apiece. Neither Homme nor Brown had officially registered as a candidate; both were write-ins.
They agreed to settle the race with a coin toss. Brown won.
Perhaps there's hope for 2009 after all.