So Long, 2001 [Part 2]

December 21, 2001

As you may have guessed, my review of 2001 was broken into two parts. Ironically after sending out Part 1, I heard a commentator lamenting the fact that everyone at the end of the year does a "year in review". He then proceeded to review what he considered to be some of the significant events of 2001. For that reason I considered making Part 2 a review of the events of 1001, or going back to 2001 B.C., but that seemed too likely to descend into historical speculation, which too easily leads to B.S. So here’s the final half of 2001:

July, 2001: A group of British schools refused a gift of 250 books ranging from Homer’s The Iliad to Joseph Heller’s Catch-22 because they considered the books "too difficult" or, as one teacher described Herodotus, "too boring." The schools also complained that the books had too much text, dull covers, and no illustrations. Apparently some of the teachers complained that accepting the books would put pressure on them to "teach" their students skills like "reading". A similar gift to schools in the United States was refused because all the books had already been banned.

August, 2001: Officials in Miami, Florida stopped the practice of feeding sharks. Prior to the ban, charter boats would take scuba divers out to an area known for sharks, then throw "chum", or chopped fish and blood, into the water to attract sharks. This allowed divers to experience the thrill of getting close to one of nature’s most dangerous predators, and a lucky few had the thrill of being attacked by one of nature’s most dangerous predators. Supporters of the shark-feeding excursions say they helped clear up a lot of misconceptions about sharks, such as the widely-held beliefs that sharks are soft, cuddly, and vegetarians. Persons who continue the shark-feeding expeditions will be turned into chum.

October, 2001: With airline security understandably tight, it’s perhaps not surprising that some employees at a Philadelphia airport were pushed completely over the edge…and took their frustration out on a passenger. A man was detained for questioning because he was reading a book titled "Hayduke Lives!", by Edward Abbey. Published in 1991, the cover of this particular edition had a picture of a hand holding a stick of dynamite. Although a law enforcement official declared the book "innocuous", a flight attendant overrode the decision and the man was kept from his flight. After scheduling an alternate flight, he left the Abbey book at home. This time for inflight reading–I’m not making this up–he had the latest Harry Potter book. He was told he was banned from the airline for life. Shortly after this incident, a writer in an airport in Munich was arrested for carrying a cellophane-wrapped copy of a book by Karl Marx. His copy of the Times Literary Supplement was also confiscated. When the writer asked to phone the Mayor of Munich, explaining that he and the Mayor had become acquainted during the Goethe Institute seminar where he’d been given the Marx book, he was released. On his return to the boarding line, the writer learned that the police had bragged to other passengers how police vigilance had led to the arrest of a suspicious individual. The lesson from this is that there is such a thing as dangerous literature–but it only becomes dangerous when mixed with stupidity. The other lesson is that sometimes the scariest people in airports are the ones who are being paid to be there.

November, 2001: The Mitchell Library in Glasgow, Scotland, decided that various attractions such as the world’s largest collection of Robert Burns materials, including original manuscripts, weren’t bringing in enough people, so they’re installing a bar and a cafe. I hate to bring up stereotypes, but it does say something that alcohol and Scottish literature should be so closely tied together. However, if two drunks get into an argument about what exactly "Auld Lang Syne" means, and we all know how frequently that happens, they won’t have to go far to sort it out.

December, 2001: Depending on where you live, a white Christmas, or the lack of it, is a certainty. For those of us who live in inter-temperate zones, however, it’s not always certain. We’re almost certain to get snow at some point between November and March, but whether it will actually fall on Christmas is almost impossible to predict. Despite this, British bookmakers are offering 5-2 odds that snow will fall on London on Christmas Day. So we can be assured that some compulsive gamblers will be having a very merry Christmas, and that when King Wenceslas looks out, the snow may not be deep, crisp, and even, but as long as it’s there, Stephen won’t be the only one feasting.

Enjoy this week’s offerings–and happy holidays. Freethinkers Anonymous will return in January 2002.

By Craig Wilson, USA TODAY

I hate this time of year. Not for its crass commercialism and forced frivolity, but because it’s the season when the food police come out with their wagging fingers and annual tips on how to get through the holidays without gaining 10 pounds.

You can’t pick up a magazine without finding a list of holiday eating do’s and don’ts. Eliminate second helpings, high-calorie sauces and cookies made with butter, they say. Fill up on vegetable sticks, they say. Good grief. Is your favorite childhood memory of Christmas a carrot stick? I didn’t think so. Isn’t mine, either. A carrot was something you used as a snowman’s nose.

I have my own list of tips for holiday eating. I assure you, if you follow them, you’ll be fat and happy. So what if you don’t make it to New Year’s? Your pants won’t fit anymore, anyway.

1. About those carrot sticks. Avoid them. Anyone who puts carrots on a holiday buffet table knows nothing of the Christmas spirit. In fact, if you see carrots, leave immediately. Go next door, where they’re serving rum balls.

2. Drink as much eggnog as you can. And quickly. Like fine single-malt scotch, it’s rare. In fact, it’s even rarer than single-malt scotch. You can’t find it any other time of year but now. So drink up! Who cares that it has 10,000 calories in every sip? It’s not as if you’re going to turn into an eggnogaholic or something. It’s a treat. Enjoy it. Have one for me. Have two. It’s later than you think. It’s Christmas!

3. If something comes with gravy, use it. That’s the whole point of gravy. Gravy does not stand alone. Pour it on. Make a volcano out of your mashed potatoes. Fill it with gravy. Eat the volcano. Repeat.

4. As for mashed potatoes, always ask if they’re made with skim milk or whole milk. If it’s skim, pass. Why bother? It’s like buying a sports car with an automatic transmission.

5. Do not have a snack before going to a party in an effort to control your eating. The whole point of going to a Christmas party is to eat other people’s food for free. Lots of it. Hello? Remember college?

6. Under no circumstances should you exercise between now and New Year’s. You can do that in January when you have nothing else to do. This is the time for long naps, which you’ll need after circling the buffet table while carrying a 10-pound plate of food and that vat of eggnog.

7. If you come across something really good at a buffet table, like frosted Christmas cookies in the shape and size of Santa, position yourself near them and don’t budge. Have as many as you can before becoming the center of attention. They’re like a beautiful pair of shoes. You can’t leave them behind. You’re not going to see them again.

8. Same for pies. Apple. Pumpkin. Mincemeat. Have a slice of each. Or, if you don’t like mincemeat, have two apples and one pumpkin. Always have three. When else do you get to have more than one dessert? Labor Day?

9. Did someone mention fruitcake? Granted, it’s loaded with the mandatory celebratory calories, but avoid it at all cost. I mean, have some standards, mate.

10. And one final tip: If you don’t feel terrible when you leave the party or get up from the table, you haven’t been paying attention. Reread tips. Start over.

But hurry! Cookieless January is just around the corner.

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