What a week. Whatever happened to things getting all calm and quiet during the Christmas holidays? Hmmm . . . I should’ve said “during the holidays” and left Christmas clean out of it. No offense meant.... Happy whatever anybody chooses to celebrate.

Me, I got a tree with lights, a box full of Merry Christmas schlock and a dancing Santa that shakes his hips and sings Jingle Bell Rock whenever you switch him on. That dancing Santa has captured the imagination of my 18-month-old boy like nothing else on this earth.

For the past three weeks, the first thing we have to do when he wakes up every morning at 0500 is walk downstairs, turn on the tree lights, switch on Santa and dance like demented idiots around the living room. My teenage daughter and I did the same thing when she was little. Dancing Santa is the gift that keeps on giving.

But returning to my earlier question.... What’s happened to peace on earth, silent night and the calm that used to descend around this time of year as everyone switched off the office lights and spent quiet days with family, friends and football?

Lemme see ... what have we got this year under the tree?

— An economic meltdown with a bailout price tag that is neither fully understood nor fully explained.

— Israel and Hamas back in the ring for another round.

— Pakistan and India making angry eyes at each other while tweaking the what-nots on the nosecones of their nukes.

— The Taliban reasserting themselves in Afghanistan (not to mention Pakistan) with their brutal brand of Islamic justice.

— A complete tool named Madoff screwing us out of more than 50 billion clams.

— A governor in Illinois who makes us all want to get in the shower and scrub real hard.

— A former Merrill Lynch executive who, after working for Merrill for only three months, walks away with a payout of $25 million … about $274,000 per day for the 91 days (including weekends) that he worked there. May I just say, what a load of crap.

— Russia and Venezuela acting like teenagers in love during recent naval exercises not all that far from Miami.

— Iran continuing its madcap pursuit of nuclear weapons, calling for Israel’s destruction after the latest round of hostilities with Hamas (which, of course, Iran funds, trains, supplies, encourages and guides) and standing eagerly on the sidelines of Iraq hoping and plotting for more chaos and violence.

— And, as if all that weren’t enough, we’re about to be subjected to another season of American Idol.

So you can see why I’ve been harking back to holidays past when things seemed a tad bit simpler. It’s not that we haven’t had disasters, crises, instability and threats to peace before; obviously we have. It just seems that this year we’ve got an extra impressive convergence of unpleasant events creating tension at a time when we’d all like a little quiet to reflect on the year and look forward to the future.

With the 24 hour news cycle it would be easy to feel overwhelmed and weighed down by the enormity of our current economic situation, the various tensions around the globe and the oddity of putting a fourth judge on the panel for Idol. Throw in the ever present BlackBerry, laptop and overscheduled family life and getting back to those quiet holiday times when it’s just you, the family and Bing and Frank singing White Christmas might seem next to impossible.

By the way, there is no finer holiday evening than sitting at home with family, consuming steaks and martinis and watching the 1954 classic film White Christmas with Bing, Danny Kaye, Rosemary Clooney, Vera Ellen and Dean Jagger. I recommend it no matter what holiday you celebrate. And I believe martinis are nondenominational.

Lucky for me I’ve got Dancing Santa. You should get one.

Most days this month I found myself on a low-grade burn, surly over the current state of events and wondering when people will start acting honestly, responsibly and with respect toward one another. But every morning at five minutes past five, with the tree lights on and Santa doing the hippy hippy shake, my little boy in his footed pajamas and I could be found dancing like we didn’t have a care in the world.

And that, I think, is the true meaning of the holidays.

Before we sign off for 2008, I should let you know that Mrs. Beasley, our dependable and kind part-time receptionist, finished grading your papers from last week’s PWB Nuclear Test. We were pretty lenient, considering 'tis the season and all, so we’re happy to announce that everyone passed.

I will point out that I am aware that Robert Gates is the Secretary of Defense, not the Secretary of State, as we misstated in the bonus question. Intern number two was responsible for proofreading and has now been assigned less difficult tasks, including polishing the foosball table and restocking the beer fridge. Bobo the talking intern will take over proofreading until he returns to school.

Gary from parts unknown wrote: “Yes, modernize the nuclear arsenal… and put Robert Gates back in the Defense Department.” Clever and only a bit sarcastic.

Sally, also not willing to cough up her location, piled on by saying, “Great article until the bonus question. I hope Mr. Baker paid a little closer attention to details as a CIA field officer than he does as a writer.”

No, I did not. There was that one time that the Iraqi asset told me where the weapons of mass destruction were located. But, to be honest, I forgot to write it down.

David, a U.S. Navy sub veteran with a couple decades experience in the commercial nuclear power industry, said that “Mr. Gates is Secretary of Defense. He doesn’t even remotely resemble Condoleezza Rice.” Dr. Rice thanks you. Also, well done David for getting all the answers correct; sort of makes those 20 years in the nuclear industry worthwhile.

Greg from North Dakota wins the award for using the biggest words in the essay portion of the test, although he couldn’t keep to the one-paragraph limit so he has to forfeit the points. While we didn’t understand your essay, we are confident that it’s really smart. Bobo’s lips never stopped moving the whole time he was reading.

Kent, a nuclear engineer from some unidentified location, answered the bonus question by saying “…the answer is (B), which will almost certainly mean that as soon as Iraq has stabilized a bit more, Bob Gates will also be found to be “bleak and in need of immediate modernization… or at least replacement.”

Cynical, but I’ll bet Kent the nuke guy is absolutely correct. Watch for SECDEF Gates to be eased out at the first opportune moment.

David from Rio (that’s in Brazil) wrote, “I did my military service in the SAC and am a peace through strength guy. You may be a bit young to remember the SAC, the Strategic Air Command, but it was a reason you were able to grow up in the land of the free.”

Thanks for your service, David, and for thinking I’m too young to remember the SAC.

Neil from Indianapolis (that’s in Indiana) correctly answered the questions, demonstrating keen test-taking aptitude. Unfortunately, he then asked, “…What did I win?”

Neil, the PWB doesn’t want to encourage an entitlement society. Rather than asking “What did I win?” you should ask, “How can I pay more taxes so that others may do well off the back of my success?”

Finally, Bruce from Blackwell, Okla., contributed the following essay response: “If we unilaterally disarm, then everything will be super, man.”

The interns were struck by the brevity and clever way that Bruce failed to use any original thought. It helps that Bruce has founded the Blackwell chapter of the Whadda Loada Krapp Fraternity and named himself President. The Krappas, as we fraternity brothers call ourselves, welcome the Blackwell chapter and look forward to their timely payment of dues.

As always, we welcome your comments, thoughts and insight. Send your e-mails to peoplesweeklybrief@hotmail.com

Till 2009, stay safe.

Mike Baker served for more than 15 years as a covert field operations officer for the Central Intelligence Agency, specializing in counterterrorism, counternarcotics and counterinsurgency operations around the globe. Since leaving government service, he has been a principal in building and running several companies in the private intelligence, security and risk management sector and has recently agreed to return to Diligence LLC, a company he cofounded in 2000, as President. He appears frequently in the media as an expert on counterterrorism, intelligence and homeland security. Baker is also a partner in Classified Trash, a film and television production company. Baker serves as a script consultant, writer and technical adviser within the entertainment industry, lending his expertise to such programs as the BBC's popular spy series "Spooks," as well as major motion pictures.