Dear Mr. Claus: Yeah, I know you know who's been naughty and who's been nice, but just in case you have a sub-category of could-have-been-better-but-gets-points-for-trying, perhaps you'll cast a cursory glance at this little request list while the elves are loading the sleigh and harnessing the reindeer:

  • Peace

    Well, sure, that's a standing wish. Heaven knows, there hasn't been a lot of it in this year of mind-numbing horrors, but hope springs eternal. If you could drop a few cases of Valium, Xanax, and Zoloft in the stockings of Yasser Arafat, Ariel Sharon, and other leaders in assorted trouble spots around the globe, maybe that would be a start.

  • Understanding

    We could do with a lot more of that. The world is an awful big place, yet ever so small. Chaos theory, remember? The beating of a butterfly's wings in China sets in motion a spreading chain of events that bring a storm to California. Who'd have ever thought the actions of an insignificant, bearded, beturbaned radical in a remote, backward country half a world away could've resulted in the events of 9/11 and turned topsy-turvy the lives of millions? Had we who have been so blessed for so long been less complacent and more aware of the interrelationships and interdependence and needs of all those who inhabit this planet, might the outcome have been different? We'll never know. But it couldn't have hurt, and the costs — monetary, lives lost, emotional travail, beclouded future — might have been infinitely less.

  • Resolve

    We learned anew this year the importance of this trait when our president and our leaders vowed to do whatever it takes, for however long it takes, to root out the evildoers who jolted our collective consciousness on that September morning. But however broad the support for those efforts, may we also fiercely resolve not to sacrifice the hard-won, dearly-bought rights and freedoms we have achieved in the more than three centuries since this most noble venture in national and personal liberties was established.

  • Cooperation

    It was downright heart-warming, for those who've watched over the years the ceaseless wrangling, infighting, name-calling, and turf protecting antics of our elected and appointed officials, to see those selfsame leaders unite, in the aftermath of 9/11, in the goal of defeating terrorism.

Would it not be equally inspiring if these leaders would now put aside their own self interests and self-aggrandizement to cooperate in passing programs that would insure adequate medical care for those who need it, that would provide meaningful education reform, that would rescue children from poverty and neglect? Spending billions to root out terrorists should not be an excuse for shortchanging our own country's pressing needs.

Thanks, Mr. Claus, for your consideration of these requests. While you're at it: Could you maybe bring a decent farm program, one that will recognize that the well-being of this nation's agriculture is as important as missiles and aircraft carriers — that if farmers can't make farming pay their bills, we're all the poorer for it?

(Oh, and would you skip the fruitcake this year?)