- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 20, 2009

Presents of mind

Talk about can-do spirit: It took only two kind-hearted American soldiers to amass an entire 2½-ton cargo truck worth of Christmas presents for the barefoot Iraqi children who lingered just outside the walls of Forward Operating Base Falcon in the south of Baghdad.

Spc. Michael Petro, an infantryman with Company B, 252nd Combined Arms Battalion, had mulled over the idea of playing Santa Claus almost daily.

“It’s one of the poorest areas that we drive through. Every day, the kids come out running and waving,” he recalls. “I just sent my mom an e-mail just basically saying, ‘Instead of sending me stuff, send stuff for the kids. Then she forwarded that along, and that got forwarded along and it was really just an avalanche.”

Spc. Garrett Manis, a fellow infantryman, contacted his aunt in Chapel Hill, N.C. — and the same thing happened, he said. The local community responded with gusto.

“People at home really went above and beyond what I had ever envisioned,” Spc. Petro says. “Going down to mail call every day and five more boxes came in, seven more boxes came in, eight more boxes came in. It was really kind of unbelievable how it snowballed.”

The kids got their big haul on Dec. 12.

“I was actually hoping to do it a lot sooner, but just because of our mission schedule and the way things worked out, it happened to be closer to the holidays, which is kind of nice,” Spc. Petro says.

Save the date

Five days to go. That’s essentially 120 hours until Christmas dawns, when all is calm, all is bright, hopefully. And from Gallery Lafayette comes a nice rendition of just such a description: The accompanying image is the cover art for the 2010 Old Town Alexandria calendar.

“This is my 27th year to produce a calendar of the historic part of Alexandria,” artist and gallery proprietor Todd Healy tells Inside the Beltway. “My artwork is inspired by the sense of home and community.”

For information on the calendar, call 703/549-7883. The gallery itself is located at 320 King Street in Alexandria — a very swell place this time of year.

Seasonal tally

A few numbers to ponder as the final rehearsals wind down for the church Christmas pageant and the old carols come to mind — these from a Harris Interactive Poll of 2,303 adults conducted Nov. 2 to 11:

Eighty-two percent of Americans believe in God, 76 believe in miracles, 75 percent believe in heaven, 73 percent say Jesus is the son of God, 72 percent believe in angels, 71 percent believe in the resurrection of the soul after death, 70 percent believe in the resurrection of Jesus, 61 percent believe in hell and another 61 percent believe in the Virgin birth. Sixty percent believe in “the devil.”

Oh, and 45 percent believe in Darwin’s theory of evolution.

Quotes of note

“Cash for Caulkers” — Unofficial title of a proposed White House program that would grant tax breaks to owners of energy efficient homes.

“My Government Went to COP 15 and All I Got Was This Lousy Economy.” — T-shirt motto from the National Center for Public Policy Research.

“One thin September soon, a floating continent disappears. In midnight sun, vapors rise as fever settles on an acid sea. Neptune’s bones dissolve.” — two stanzas from Al Gore’s climate change poem, included in his book “Our Choice.”

“Think GOP obstruction is bad now? Just imagine what Washington would look like if a bunch of new senators — inspired by Sarah Palin and the tea party crowd — took over.” — Sen. John Kerry, Massachusetts Democrat.

Days of yore

“Without a shot fired,” the French gave New Orleans and lower Louisiana to the U.S. on this day in 1803, after the Louisiana Purchase some months before. For no reason in particular, and because we all need distraction at this time, we offer this link to an ancient video for “The Battle of New Orleans” by Johnny Horton, a 1959 anthem to the conflict of the same name, which took place in 1814.

See it here: www.youtube.com/watch?v=LsRK3DNoa_Q

Today also marks the 189th anniversary of a “bachelor tax” imposed by the state of Missouri on unmarried men between the ages of 21 and 50. The fee? $1 a year.

South Carolina became the first state to officially secede from the U.S. on this day in 1860, followed a few weeks by a half-dozen other states, which collectively called themselves the “Confederate States of America.”

Uber-patriot and USO champion Bob Hope became an American citizen at age 17 on this day 89 years ago. Wait. What? Mr. Hope was born Leslie Townes Hope in Eltham, England, the fifth of seven sons.

Was it a blue, blue Christmas? Elvis Presley received his draft notice from the U.S. Army on this day in 1957, while spending the Christmas holidays at Graceland, his newly purchased Tennessee mansion.

Poll du jour

87 percent of Americans put up a Christmas tree.

55 percent use an artificial tree, 24 percent put up the real thing, 8 percent will get both.

44 percent prefer an angel on the top of the tree, 38 percent a star.

56 prefer multicolored lights on the tree, 33 percent opt for clear white lights.

53 percent open presents on Christmas Day, 12 percent on Christmas Eve.

28 percent open gifts on both.

Source: A Strategy One survey of 1,000 adults conducted December 4 to 7.

Follow Jennifer Harper at twitter.com/harperbulletin.

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