Man knows not his time
"The taste of death is upon my lips," lamented Mozart, and so it was in a week when two former heads of state breathed their last. Gerald R. Ford, 38th president of the United States, was laid to rest in Grand Rapids, Mich., Jan. 4 following a state funeral in Washington to commemorate his life and death Dec. 26 at age 93. In a city of 195,000 residents, nearly 60,000 Michiganders turned out in sub-freezing temperatures. Many waited hours to pay their last respects to a man Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm described as a leader of achievement and intellect "in a plain brown wrapper."
Saddam Hussein was hanged on a military gallows in Baghdad Dec. 30 after an Iraqi court sentenced him to death. In the West analysts and pundits fumed over the chaotic final scene of Saddam's execution after a video apparently taken by cell phone revealed Shiite guards taunting Saddam in his final moments. In Baghdad and other Iraqi communities, overwhelming support for the execution held, as Iraqis remembered larger transgressions: over 100,000 Kurds killed under Saddam, $29 billion in public funds missing, 170 presidential palaces, and nearly 300 mass gravesites uncovered to date.
The 110th Congress got underway Jan. 4 with the swearing in of the first female speaker of the House and the first Muslim elected to Congress. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) took his oath of office holding the Quran that belonged to Thomas Jefferson. Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) kicked off the leadership transfer, the first since 1995 of both houses to Democrats, with a $1,000-a-head fundraiser featuring surviving members of the Grateful Dead and other celebs. "Ms. Pelosi is a huge Dead fan," her spokeswoman said. President Bush invited congressional leaders from both parties to the White House, saying, "I am hopeful we can find common ground without compromising our principles." But the accommodating tone isn't likely to last if Democrats launch ceaseless investigations into the Iraq War or tamper with what economist Stephen Moore calls the most important Bush achievement-tax cuts: "Those have been so important for the economy, and it's the last issue Republicans have left as their brand."
Between Christmas and New Year's Ethiopian forces scattered Islamists in Somalia who held control for six months. Ethiopian soldiers seized Mogadishu Dec. 28 from Somalia's Islamic Courts Union, which took over most of the south last summer. Islamist fighters soon dispersed, while U.S. naval vessels patrolled Somalia's waters to capture foreign Islamist fighters, including al-Qaeda members. Three in particular, believed to be responsible for the 1998 U.S. embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania, have reportedly been hiding in Somalia.
An Indonesian ferry carrying up to 600 passengers sank into the Java Sea Dec. 30. Rescuers found some 220 survivors, including the ferry's captain, stranded in small groups on lifeboats, deserted islands, and an oil rig. Fifteen people were found marooned on an island nearly 310 miles from where the ship went down. Officials fear hundreds are dead, even as they searched also for a Boeing 737 carrying 102 people, including three Americans, which disappeared en route to Manado on New Year's Day.
Pastor D. James Kennedy was described as in "improved, but serious" condition last week after suffering a heart attack Dec. 28. The evangelist, author, and pastor of the 10,000-member Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church was taken off a ventilator Dec. 30 and was able to talk but remained hospitalized.
Urbana '06 closed its first triennial missions conferences in St. Louis with over 22,000 attendees-the largest ever-and greater-than-ever emphasis on reaching out to Muslims. More than 500 college students attended a seminar hosted by Crescent Project's Fouad Masri. "Your job is not to convert Muslims, your job is to love them," he said. "Muslims know Islam does not work-it's like a house with a leaking roof. We need believers to tell them there's a better house, the house of Jesus."