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Columns about Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years, and Valentine's Day.

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Dispatches from the land of ducks, geckos, and rice. Lots and lots of rice.

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Blame it on El Niño - Hurricanes in the Pacific? Blame it on El Niño. Volcanic eruptions in Montserrat? El Niño. Janet Reno breaking down and starting an investigation into campaign financing? El Niño again! You might as well brace yourself—everything that happens during the next ten months will be blamed on El Niño.

Size doesn’t matter, and neither does Godzilla
The advertising for Godzilla screams "Size matters", which for them it does, considering the size of the production budget they need to cover. Hugh McColl, emperor of the newly formed Amalgamated United NationsBank of America, predicted that in a few years there will be only four major banks left in the country and his will be all of them. And then, of course, there’s the phenomenal sales of Viagra, which is the final proof that an awful lot of men (and their mates) are firmly convinced that bigger is, indeed, better.

The Truth About Stereotypes
It’s hard not to categorize people. I’m sure you’ve heard the stereotypes, if not uttered them yourself: Italians are gangsters, Mexicans are lazy, Arabs are terrorists, feminists are men-haters, loners in Montana are militiamen, yuppies are scum, presidents lie, politicians only care about re-election, and TV programmers live to insult our intelligence. But as rational human beings we know that not all the people in a given group fit the stereotype. Well, except for presidents, politicians, and TV programmers.

Bigger! Better! Faster! Moronic!
Every decade has its identifying label. The ‘60s was the Age of Aquarius, the ‘70s the Years No One Wants to Own Up To, and the ‘80s the infamous Me Decade. Finally, as the ‘90s draw to a close, it looks like it’s official: these are the Superlative Years because everything has to be The Biggest! The Best! The Fastest! The Tallest! Come to think of it maybe we should change it to the Exclamation Point Years.

The Truth About Truth in Advertising
The truth in advertising laws in this country aren’t as advertised. These are the laws which were passed by Congress to stop companies from bragging, exaggerating, and making claims which just aren’t true. This is necessary since advertisers, if left to their own devices, pretty much act like high school boys bragging on Monday morning. The difference is, with advertising someone actually gets screwed. Unfortunately it’s us.

Taking the Junk Out of Junk Food
It’s not easy eating a healthy diet. We spend our lives on the go, work long hours, try to cram in a semblance of a social life, and one day wake up to realize we’re so busy we have to schedule time to write things in our dayplanner. So if we, as role models for the youth of this country—a thought even scarier than Dan Qualye running for president—can’t eat well, how can we expect kids to? That’s why it should come as no shock to hear that teenagers are getting over 30 percent of their vegetable intake from potato chips and french fries.

The Rise and Fall of Artificial Organs
Artificiality has become a reality of life. We put Sweet ‘N Low in our coffee, top it off with the oh-so-enticingly named coffee whitener, drool over breasts which have been pumped up with silicone and saline, and then have the nerve to name an imitation margarine "I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter." So it should come as no surprise that doctors at the Impotence World Association (motto: "We want to get a rise out of you") are aiming for what may be the ultimate in artificial organs: penises and vaginas.

Living at Your Own Risk
What makes politicians think adding warning labels to everything will do any good? This is, after all, a country where reading is a dying art. It's also the country where three times as many people can name the Three Stooges as can name three Supreme Court Justices. (Hint: Manny, Moe, and Jack are NOT stooges.)

Women Love Valentine’s Day, Men are From Mars - Men and women see Valentine’s Day very differently. Then again, men and women see just about everything differently. But the stakes are much higher on Valentine’s Day. It’s like the final exam for a relationship, except of course there’s no book to study, no CliffsNotes to cram with, and even though there are movies which would give a man a good idea of what the day’s all about, there’s just no way he’s going to sit through it since Pamela Anderson Lee isn’t in it.

Tourist Attractions of the Future
They just don’t make roadside attractions like they used to. I know people say that about everything from cars to movies to humor columns—okay, maybe not humor columns—but this one is definitely true. After all, when was the last time someone looked up from the morning newspaper and said, "Honey, I think we should blast a home out of the side of a huge rock so we can live in it."? Actually, it was in 1945, and Albert Christensen of Moab, Utah did just that.

Working (and Dying) for Peanuts
Charles Schultz died the night before his last cartoon strip ran. In the words of Canada’s foremost philosopher, Alanis Morissette, "Isn’t it ironic?" Somehow I don’t think he saw it that way. I doubt his last words were "What wonderful timing! Tomorrow’s the day the last new Peanuts strip will run!" Instead I suspect he looked up, shook his head slowly, and quoted one of his creations saying, "Rats!"

Don't Hate Me Because I'm Beautiful, Hate Me Because I Bought It
There are three things that separate us from animals. First, we use toilet paper. Second, we’re the only ones that complain about people emailing us unfunny jokes, then turn around and forward them to all our friends. And third, we get plastic surgery.  Most plastic surgery is done simply because people want to look better. Some people do it so they can look like someone else. Women want to have the facial features of Julia Roberts and Cindy Crawford. And why shouldn't they?

It's a Fact, Jack. Isn't It?
Separating fact from fiction these days is like separating egg whites and yolks from a plate of scrambled eggs—you should have thought of it before you ordered the Grand Slam breakfast with the extra side of hash browns. Between hype, spin, sound bites, ads, and web sites masquerading as information when all they’re really trying to do is sell useless products to people who have more money than sense, how’s a person supposed to have any idea what to believe?

Where Are The Food Police When You Really Need Them?
My concern isn’t with the health purity of food, it’s with the ethnic purity. I’m afraid that with the way current cooking trends are going, the line between ethnic cuisines is blurring faster than an eye chart after a bottle of tequila. America may be the melting pot of the world, but that doesn’t mean it’s necessary to throw anything that’s handy into the double boiler, does it? This is, after all, the same cooking method that led us to Slim Jims, Spam, and Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup Cereal.

A Summer Vacation Guide
This year it’s time to do something a little different, to break out of that rut and forget about going to Disneyland for the umpteenth time. To cancel those reservations at Lake Fertilizer-Runoff. Been there, done that, got the glow-in-the- dark complexion to prove it. And whatever you do, don’t even think about going camping—if we were supposed to live outdoors in tents God wouldn’t have invented Motel 6. That’s why I’ve put together a few suggestions and pointers which will help you find new and fun things to do this vacation.

Fame!  Now There's a High Maintenance Career
There’s something about fame and notoriety that makes a person want to, well, use it. This isn’t exactly a new concept, it’s been going on since Adam parlayed being booted out of the Garden of Eden into a chain of barbecued rib stands.  Nowhere does this happen more than in Hollywood, where actors love to cash in—I mean, use—their fame. They use it to sell books. They use it to sell perfume. Some even lapse and use it for good by raising money for charities. Usually they get over it.

Home is Where the Heartburn is
There’s nothing like going home to bring out the worst in us. It doesn’t matter how many years you’ve been away, how old you are, or how much you tell yourself you’re a grown up now so you won’t pout when your mother tells you to stop picking on your sister and go to your room without dinner—reversion is unavoidable. Face it, at one time or another Ghandi hauled off and slapped his brother when they were both home for the holidays. The truth is, if it wasn’t for dysfunction most families wouldn’t function at all.

E.T., Phone the Three Stooges
Ever alert to making their life easier, the astronomers at SETI, the Search for ExtraTerrestrial Intelligence, started a program which, after a lot of thought, they brilliantly named SETI@Home. What you get if you go to their website   and download some software is a computer screensaver which replaces the passé South Park one you’ve had for ages (the one where Kenny gets killed when Bart Simpson throws a Beavis and Butthead lunchbox at him) with, well, a bunch of graphs. This really isn’t as geeky as it sounds. Okay, yes it is. But it’s also popular.

Honeymoon at Viagra Falls
Suppose impotence isn’t really as widespread as it appears to be? What if we’re being sexual lemmings jumping off a cliff to get a publicized cure for a problem we don’t have? Maybe the truth is we’re just being Americans, a nation of people convinced that it’s our civic duty and birthright to brag. To be the biggest, the best, the fastest, the strongest. Thus it’s no surprise that when it comes to impotence we have no problem standing tall and shouting out our superiority. "We’re Number One!" we boast as we raise our arms, fists encased in huge foam rubber hands with a large finger outstretched—it is a finger, isn’t it?

Sticks and stones may break your bones,
but your name, well, it could kill you

Most people choose their children’s name very casually. They pick something they like, often a name that honors a dead relative, a revered historical figure, a character on Beverly Hills 90210, or their favorite endangered waterfowl. Well you’d better think twice if you’re in that position, because a name has more to do with how someone turns out than all the genes in their little finger.

It’s the culture, stupid
People in other countries aren’t like us. That's what's known as a mixed blessing.  On the one hand we can take pride in the fact that we didn’t come up with the concept of eating raw fish, idolizing Jerry Lewis, or dancing to a band which features tuba-players in leather shorts. Then again, we have Reese’s Peanut Butter Puffs cereal, Pauley Shore, and Marilyn Manson.

Throwing the book at them
It’s not easy making the punishment fit the crime. Sure, virginity may be its own punishment, but it’s not technically a crime like armed robbery, assault and battery, or giving Tom Selleck another TV show. That’s why you never hear of anyone being sentenced to ten years of virginity.

Taking the Real Out of Reality
Recently, when Prince Edward ("The Other White Prince") got married, they corralled the family and took the usually battery of photographs. Lo and behold, when they got the film back from Royal One-Hour Photo Processing (Motto: "Our photos rule") they discovered that Prince William, second in line to the throne, wasn’t smiling. So, in the great tradition of Charles I, Lady Jane Grey, and Ann Boleyn, William had his head lopped off and digitally replaced with a smiling version they kept on hand for just such an emergency.

Drawing Straws in Iowa
In their quest to show that they can be the most impatient organization in the country—a title previously held by Macy’s, which actually advertised a Dancing Santa on August 13th using the line "Only 134 days ‘til Christmas"—the Iowa Republican Party went and held their primary straw poll. This is the political event where candidates spend a lot of time and even more money, well, buying votes. It’s true. It’s legal. And it’s really too bad they don’t do it in my neighborhood.

Who Has Time For Patience?
Patience is a virtue. So is bravery, fidelity, and putting the cap back on the toothpaste tube, especially if you're a man. But patience is in a category all its own, for unlike other virtues, our patience has run out. Gone are the days of leisurely strolls, lingering dinners, and curling up with a good book. Nowadays we run for exercise, bypass any restaurant without a drive- through window, and listen to the Cliff Notes Booklets-On- Tape of "Monica’s Story" because the full-length version is just too damned long. And boring.

Musty TV
The new fall TV season has begun and I couldn’t be much more excited. Okay, maybe a little. But that’s only because it promises to be a pleasant change from the stupor brought on by summer reruns, the same four episodes of Seinfeld rotating in a continuous loop 24-hours a day on three channels, and my new nightly ritual of turning the sound down during "Change of Heart" so I can pretend to be Chris Jagger and say "Will they stay together? Or will they have a change of heart?" along with him. Now, thanks to Must See TV—hell, if it’s that imperative it has to be good!—there’s a glimmer of hope on the network horizon. Yeah, right.

The Big Duh!
We've always been told that if we ask a stupid question we’ll get a stupid answer. Unlike "The harder you work the more money you’ll make" and "Pauley Shore just needs to find the right vehicle", this saying happens to be true. It’s a shame no one in the media seems to have heard it, though. Lately they’ve been asking a rash of stupid questions, consulting experts or taking a survey, never stopping to realize that they’re the only ones who didn’t know the answer in the first place. Somewhere along the line reportable, rhetorical, and ridiculous have become one and the same

You Are What You Say You Are
For years we’ve been told we are what we eat. I sure hope that’s not true since I’d hate to think we’re a nation of S’mores cereal, Oreos with orange Halloween filling, and tuna jerky in plain and spicy flavors. But like customer service, quality control, and our waistline, what defines us as people has changed over the years. Today you are whatever you say you are.

Smartening Sonatas or Silly Symphonies?
The debate over the Mozart Effect is in full blast. Parents are sitting their children down and making them listen to Mozart, hoping it will make them smarter. Pregnant mothers who don't want to wait until the kids are born are putting speakers against their stomachs in the hopes that their unborn fetuses will grow smart at the same time they grow fingers. And fathers, not wanting to be left out, are strapping headphones to their testicles so they can boost their sperm’s IQ. Yes, the passengers on the Titanic were right when they said: "It’s never too soon to go overboard."

Fear of Loafing Outside of Las Vegas
Certainly Nevada has a lot going for it, like the slot machines which are in every convenience store, gas station, beauty parlor, and mortuary. (Remember the state motto: "You can never be too poor or too dead to play the slots.") And of course there are the euphemistically named ranches—like the Mustang Ranch, the Bunny Ranch, and the We’ll Do Anything For Money Ranch—which offer up sex like another order of chicken fried steak in gravy, the state dish. But that’s pretty much it.

Looking for a *beeping* date
Here comes the latest Japanese import, the Lovegety. This is a small pager-like device which supposedly helps you find an appropriate mate. That’s right, it beeps when it detects someone as desperate as you are. Just kidding. Kind of.

Surfing For The Saviour
I predict that by this time next year everyone on the face of the Earth will have their own website.  And a lot of them will have webcams.   A religious group, Daystar International Ministry, has taken online voyeurism one step farther by setting up the MessiahCam. That’s right. Now you can drop by any time of the day or night and look at live shots of the Eastern Gate of Jerusalem, which is where they claim Jesus will show up. Of course they don’t say when he’ll show up, which creates a big problem. At least with the ChangingLeavesCam I know to watch during the fall.

Do You Miss Manners?
Experts predict that on October 12th the population of the Earth will hit a whopping six billion.  With this many bodies packed onto the planet we’d better make sure we start treating each other with courtesy, respect, and "Hey! I’m not done talking to you, bonehead! Quit skipping to the end of this paragraph, will you?"  That's why it’s good to know that some people are trying to be civil, even if they’re passing legislation to do it.

What's Your Specialty?
If it’s ever crossed your mind for even a moment that we’re in the age of specialization then you can put your mind at ease. We are. Doctors specialize in arcane branches of medicine like post-pediatric neuro-gastro-oncology, there are lawyers who make their living by only handling lawsuits against presidents (a lucrative field these days), and God help you if you take your aging Yugo to a mechanic who only works on new Chryslers. Face it, nowadays generalists are about as common as a guy who hasn’t put in for his Viagra prescription.

Holiday Gift Suggestions for the New Millennium™
If you’re like me, and I sincerely offer my sympathies if you are, you once again vowed not to wait until the last minute to do your Christmas shopping. But of course, you will. Since you probably haven’t even thought about making a list, better yet gotten around to checking it twice, here are a few gift suggestions which may help ensure that you and your family don’t end up on the Fox Network’s Christmas special, "America’s Best Holiday Massacres Caught on Tape."

The Official Column of the Millennium®
Since you’ve probably been too busy trying to remember to write 1999 on your checks and scheduling your Advanced Macaroni Sculpting class around the upcoming cavalcade of awards shows, I’m going to make your life a little easier by providing a handy Guide to the New Millennium®. Just follow these few short rules and you’ll find yourself talking like the pros and impressing your friends. Well, the ones who aren’t already holed up in a fallout shelter eating C-rations and counting down the days until the year 2000.

Take my throne, please!
Polls say 60% of parents think being President is a bad career choice. This places it right below used car salesman, lava lamp repairman, and guest on the Jerry Springer show. They probably think this because the Presidency has become such a difficult position. It wasn’t that long ago it was admired. Where the President used to be portrayed in movies by such acting legends as Raymond Massey, Henry Fonda, and Ralph Bellamy, now we get Kevin Kline and John Travolta.

Love The One You Drive
After being dumped by his girlfriend, Buster Mitchell decided it was time to marry his one true love—his 1996 Mustang GT. He went to the Knoxville, Tennessee courthouse and filled out an application listing his fiancée’s birthplace as "Detroit", her father as "Henry Ford", and her blood type as "10-W-40". The clerk told him no go.  The problem is that Tennessee law says it’s only legal for men and cars to marry if the car is older than 16. Just kidding. Actually it turns out your bride has to be female.

I’ll Take "The Price of a Life" for $500, Alex!
You don’t need me to tell you that things are getting more expensive. All you have to do is look around. Gas prices have jumped again. Movie tickets cost almost as much as the bucket of popcorn you’ll eat during the coming attractions. Even a cup of coffee at Starbucks just went up a dime, which makes it ounce for ounce more expensive than beer, soda, or even that gasoline you just agreed cost too much.  Mothers, on the other hand, turn out to be a bargain.

The Ultimate Car Option
It’s hard to think of many things scarier than 20,000 car salesmen under one roof. Sure, the Third Reich marching through Poland comes to mind. So does Ken Starr and Jerry Falwell sitting around watching the Teletubbies episode where Tinky Winky gets a male intern and runs off to Key West to wear leather chaps, get his antenna pierced, and write a tell-all book called "I Put the Pee-pee in PBS." But we’re talking car salesmen here. You know, the guys the public ranks below columnists on the Faith and Trust scale, if you can believe such a thing is possible.

No News Would Be Better News
Thanks to the so-called Information Age, and in particular the Internet, it’s becoming increasingly more difficult for the media to find enough news. CNN and MSNBC are on 24 hours a day. Dateline is expanding next season, putting them dangerously close to airing 8 days a week. And now it turns out that ABC News is so hard up that they’re planning to broadcast 27 hours of live coverage of the turn of the millennium. That’s right, twenty-seven hours of it.

The Price of Politics
The American political system is based on the idea that our elected officials ("the weasels") represent us ("the peons"). The thinking goes: We elect them and pay their salaries, therefore they’re supposed to pass the laws we want them to pass. But, like the hard to find Yasir Arafat Beanie Babies, politicians go to the highest bidder. The difference is they don’t get sold on the Internet.   Yet.

How come our heros aren't sandwiches?
Everyone wants to be remembered after they’re gone. That’s why cemeteries are filled with tombstones, libraries are overflowing with autobiographies, and subway cars are covered with graffiti.  But there are better ways to go about this.  One is by donating your money instead of leaving it to your ungrateful children—not only does this ensure a form of immortality, it also has gives you a tax deduction and revenge at the same time.  Another way is to invent something.  Then there’s politics.

Thirty Something Burgers
The Big Mac is thirty years old. Think about it, if this was the 60s we wouldn’t be able to trust it anymore. If this was the 80s it would be starring in a TV show about whining yuppies who have nothing to whine about. But this being the 90s, we’ll celebrate by leaning back in our La-Z-boy recliner, chowing down a few more of the triple-decker burgers, and clicking the remote until we’ve either watched all the TV shows that are plugging it, from the Discovery Channel’s "Stalking the Wild Big Mac" to the Fox Network’s "When Big Macs Go Bad", or need to call Batteries-2-Go to deliver some emergency AAA’s for the remote, whichever comes first.

Welcome to Fantasyland
It’s a normal, healthy thing for human beings to have fantasies. Unless, that is, your fantasies include Rosie O’Donnell naked, AK-47 assault rifles, or group sex using Jell-O, Spam, Chee-tos, or any other food product that’s made from things we’d rather not think about and is a color not normally found in nature.  Men, of course, always fantasize about sex. Or so we’ve been led to believe. Now it turns out this long held belief just isn’t true.

Blowing Away the Smokescreens
A lot of things just aren’t what they seem to be. Take global warming, for example. What at first glance is a very serious subject—well, for those who don’t like the idea of bathing in SPF 372 every morning before going out into the sun—now turns out to be a laughing matter.    This is because of catalytic converters. You remember them, they’re the empty metal thingies on your car engine which allow the mechanic to nod his head, inform you that you failed the smog test, and call his wife to tell her to extend their vacation in Fiji by another week.

Developing Lo-Fat Humans
Now that scientists have managed to make lo-fat versions of every food product known to shopperkind, isn’t it time they did the same thing to people?  You’d think this would be easy. After all, if they can push the evolutionary scale of butter ahead by first creating margarine, then lo-fat margarine, and then "I Can’t Believe It’s a Food Product!", why can’t they figure out a way to take the fat out of us?

Upgrading the Olympics - This year there are two brand new events: snowboarding and women’s ice hockey. There are several other events which, while not being seen for the first time, are probably unfamiliar, including the 200m Luggage Carry which is held at the Nagano Airport and the 5 km Slip ‘n Slide which takes place between the parking lots and the event viewing areas.  As a public service, here’s a guide to the newer additions to the Games.

It's In The Cards
In order to combat a market that appears to be shrinking faster than Pamela Anderson’s breasts, the greeting card companies have taken several strategies. The more traditional one has been to fabricate new and better holidays in the hope that we’ll buy more cards.  Then, in a flash of brilliance not seen since someone decided that The Mod Squad would make a good movie, they decided to create cards for non-occasions. Lewis Carroll and Edward Lear would have been proud.

Thanks for the (lack of) Memory
The next time you go into the hospital for surgery, don’t be surprised if they hand you a pen so you can write a big note to the doctor telling him or her where to operate, only the note won’t be on a piece of paper, it will be on you. Surgeons, like many of us, sometimes have trouble remembering things. The difference is, when you or I forget something it’s usually not which kidney to remove.

Trying to Be a Good Sport
It’s amazing how much time people spend with sports— watching them on TV, reading about them in the newspaper, and shopping for paint to slather on their bodies so they can honestly call themselves a fan when they go to a live game. Yet as much fun as all that sounds, I have to say that on my list of favorite things to do, sports falls somewhere between watching a Brooke Shields retrospective and moving next door to Slobodan Milosevic.

I've Seen The Future and It Is Tomorrow
Some days I worry about the future of the world. Just look at it. Kids are shooting up schools. People are planting bombs throughout London. There are hard pitched, furious wars going on between groups of people who hate each other in Kosovo, Algeria, the Middle East, and the Senate. And worst of all, there’s Star Wars mania.  Let’s think about this for a second. It’s a movie--hardly an excuse for mass hysteria.

Motto-less in Iowa
It’s not surprising that Iowa is in such an uproar over their motto.  You see, their motto, well—it sucks. It’s so bad that when highway crews went out to take the old governor’s name off the signs, the new one told them not to put his up there. It’s: "Iowa, You Make Me Smile." Let me know when you get back from the bathroom so I can continue.

Will The Last Person Counted Turn Out The Lights?
The census is coming. This is the once a decade head count which is the adult equivalent of sitting in class yelling "Here!" when the teacher calls your name. Unlike school, though, they won’t send a note home to your parents if you don’t answer the questions. Instead they’ll come to your house and be more persistent than a minivan full of Jehovah’s Witnesses, especially if you scratched out your name and penciled in "Dick Hertz." Trust me, they’ve seen it before. And they’re very serious about their census.

It Would Be An Honor
There are many ways to honor people. Some have airports named after them. Others have sandwiches in their honor. Now Hugh Hefner is joining these ranks. Chicago, the home of the Playboy empire, has decided to make the site of the first Playboy Club “Hugh Hefner Way”. And why not? If they can name streets for Mike Ditka, Michael Jordan, and Gene Siskel, why not for the man who did more for flesh-colored airbrush paint than anyone in history?

Mistaken Identity
Appearances can be deceiving. You know this is true because we’ve developed so many platitudes about it, like "Don’t judge a book by its cover", "You never get a second chance to make a first impression", and "What do you mean, did I see the Crying Game?".  Take Jesse "The Body" Ventura. Go ahead, the people of Minnesota did, and they took him seriously. Well, sort of.  He admitted that during his campaign he used a body double in a TV commercial that some say helped clinch the election while cinching his waist.

Inspecting Customs - In Ireland on St. Patrick’s Day, the Irish go to church and thank St. Patrick, their patron saint, for driving the snakes out of their homeland. Here in the United States we celebrate St. Patrick’s Day by throwing parades and parties and giving thanks to the inventors of green dye and potable alcohol. Somehow it would seem more appropriate if we celebrated Clare of Assisi Day and Bernadine of Siena Day, who are the patron saints of television and advertising.

Just Because It’s a Concept Doesn’t Make It a Good One
If there’s one thing we as humans never seem to be at a loss for, it’s bad ideas. Recently the National Rifle Association held its 129th annual convention in Charlotte, North Carolina where executive vice-president Wayne LaPierre announced that the organization is planning a theme restaurant and megastore in Times Square. This pretty much defines bad idea.

The View From the Future
Thanks to perspective, a lot of things going on these days will look better somewhere down the road. The Viagra craze, Kosovo, and Adam Sandler come to mind. Not to mention the Y2K problem, which will look a whole lot better sometime after the first of January. That is if anything’s left standing. On the other hand, there are things which all the perspective in the world won’t help, like airline food, Waterworld, or caffeinated water. Hey, even perspective has it’s limitations.

It's Only Rock 'n Roll, N'est Pas? - The French have done it again. No, they haven't posthumously re-elected Charles de Gaulle as President, though judging by the current state of affairs over there it wouldn't be surprising. Or a bad idea. Rather, in their quest to maintain that much admired Gaulish purity and thigh-quivering sexy accent, the government has moved to eliminate non-French music from the airwaves. Okay, they haven't banned it completely, but they did declare that from now on 40 percent of the music played on the radio must be in French.

Hey!  Who Moved The Arctic Circle? - For years scientists have known that her continents are sagging, her ocean floor has dropped, and her youthful figure has given way to a shape that would drive Richard Simmons to tears, something normally reserved for David Letterman. But now they’ve made a more startling discovery: Howard Stern can drive Richard Simmons to tears too. Actually, they’ve known this for years. The real news is that the Arctic Circle has moved.

Opening candy wrappers at the speed of sound
Just when you thought scientists were finally buckling down to tackle the truly important problems of our times, like unraveling the keys to the genetic code, finding a cure for AIDS, and creating amber bulbs for traffic lights that people don’t mistake for green, along comes a startling breakthrough: They’ve discovered why candy wrappers make noise. It’s revelations like this that instill confidence in our education system.

Wind-up Romance - Scientists all over the world may retire now, safe in the knowledge that their probing minds and tinkering hands are no longer needed, for the ultimate invention has been created. Yes, after putting up with such bogus technological advances as the light bulb, the telephone and the Flow-Bee haircutting system, we can all sleep better at night knowing that any day now we'll be able to buy a wind-up radio that can help us find a wife.

This is Your Pilot Speaking - Traveling is a funny thing. Especially if you find humor in waking up at 4:15 in the morning so you can catch a 6:00 flight, known in the trade as the red-eye because your pilot got as little sleep as you did. It's easy to tell which one on the plane is the pilot. He was the only guy left in the bar last night after you went home at closing time.

Email Me When Armageddon Comes
It doesn't take much more than a glance at the 78-year-old Pope to get the idea that religion is stuck in the Dark Ages, which is generally defined as the years before Entertainment Tonight. Yet while some religions are being dragged kicking and screaming into the new millennium, others are embracing it. There was a photograph in the newspaper recently of an ultra-Orthodox Jew holding his cell phone to the Western Wall so a family member could recite a prayer, which should do wonders to promote Cellular One’s new "100 Prayer Minutes a Month Free For Life!" cell phone plan.

The Olympics – The Greatest Freak Show on Earth
It’s amazing that freaks were banned from sideshows in the U.S. during the ‘70s yet watching them is not only legal but the favorite post-Survivor pastime. Normal people can’t leap 8.55 meters in a single bound. Normal people don’t swim across a pool faster than I can drive. And normal people don’t go home crying before they compete like Marie-Jose Perec of France did because they have paranoid delusions about people following them. At least not the people I know.

The Trouble With TV--The Price is Wrong - They say Jerry Seinfeld turned down an offer of $5 million an episode to return to NBC. This proves that money wasn’t the point, insanity was. Not Seinfeld’s for turning it down, but the network’s for proposing it.

Brand New Roadside Attractions - Terrapin Station, the planned ode to the Grateful Dead, will have a museum, a concert hall, an amusement park, a research center, a hotel, and a very big first aid station specializing in drug overdoses. They expect to have 1.2 million people dropping a year. I mean, dropping by a year.

A Layman’s Guide to Millennium Fever - The first thing you want to know about the millennium is WHO—as in, who cares? Actually, a lot of people care. And by some coincidence they all stand to make money from it. Miller Beer got a trademark to call themselves the "Official Beer of the Millennium" because, well, they thought of it before you did.

An Immodest Proposal - We're being told that it could cost upwards of $37 billion to keep up with prison needs over the next ten years. That's a lot of money. Almost as much as Microsoft will make during your lunch hour That's why governors everywhere have been fighting so hard to cut costs. Not to help Microsoft make money, but rather to give up-and-coming criminals a dry bed and a warm meal.

Corn, it's an a-maze-ing thing
Brett Herbst of Pleasant Grove, Utah is doing a booming business turning corn fields into mazes, but what these farmers should be doing is raising hornets. Scientists in Tokyo say the bug juice gives athletes a big energy boost. It’s natural, legal, and tastes better than tuna Kool-Aid. It will be in Gatorade any day now., two, three - On one side of the discussion are those who say national or statewide testing is the only way to ensure that all children learn the same things in school while offering a way to see how they rank among other students. On the other side of the argument are those people who are too busy watching America’s Funniest Multi-Car Collisions to form an opinion.

There’s always room for...Hey, what’s that jiggling on my plate?! - Face it, Jell-O is for kids. It shimmies, it shakes, it bounces and it slides down without having to chew. What an ideal food! If they’d put lots of vitamins and minerals and other things they tell us we should eat in addition to our usual diet of fat, chemicals, and snack foods that come in colors not found in nature, then we could live on Jell-O and Jell-O alone. But until that happens we’re just going to have to fill in the nutritional gaps by eating pizza-flavored corn.  Really.

Playing by The Rules - We all must have done something terribly, horribly, unspeakably evil in our prior lives. As if the Macarena wasn’t punishment enough for living in the 90’s, now we have to put up with hearing all about a best selling book which purports to tell women everything they need to know in order to catch a man. Right. Like catching a man is a big deal. Look, if you want to catch something you can really brag about, try landing a 900 lb. marlin. Or the Loch Ness monster. Then I’ll be impressed. But a man? Pshaw! We’re easy.

Why Americans Get A Bad Rap - People in other countries have a bad attitude when it comes to Americans. For some reason we’re pegged as ill-informed, loud, boorish, demanding, and arrogant. Right, like we don’t have a good reason to be. Let’s not forget who it was that came up with the light bulb, the transistor, the computer chip, and the Talking Nanny Doll, a 12"-tall Barbie replacement that comes with two outfits, a hairbrush, and spouts three Fran Drescherisms in the most obnoxious, whiny voice this side of Flatbush Brooklyn.

Who’s The Boss? - Boss bashing is nothing new. Back in Merry Olde England it was common to use an advanced placement program to ascend the throne faster than nature would have allowed by, uh, eliminating upper management. Defending your decision was easier too. Back then you just beheaded anyone who didn’t approve of your means of career enhancement, today you hire the Dream Team.

The True Price of Fame - The famous prophet Andy Warhol once predicted that we'd each have fifteen minutes of fame. I for one believe it. How else to explain Kato Kaelin, Manny the Hippie, and—if we’re lucky—the Spice Girls?

Get It Straight in ‘98 - The only year-end articles worth reading are the tabloids' predictions for 1998. At least these look ahead. While the Year in Review reminds us that over 200 people died when a Korean Airlines plane went down in Guam ("Honey! Guess what happened last August while we were watching reruns of the Bob Hope Christmas Special?"), the Weekly World News gives us a glimpse into the future by informing us that a talking dog will run for mayor of Guthrie, Oklahoma (though it doesn’t say whether it will win).

There Are No Secrets Anymore - Most people seem to like having other people know their innermost secrets. How else to explain the never-ending stream of guests who spill their guts on talk shows, or HBO’s Taxi Stories, where people actually have sex in the back seat of the cab, tell the driver they’re on their way to kill their boyfriend, and explain that they’re transsexual but his/her boyfriend doesn’t know it, then sign a release form letting it be broadcast all over the planet?

The Golden Age of Mediocrity -  One thing's for certain, the current historical period will never be called a Golden Age. The Aluminum Can Age, perhaps. Maybe even the Disposable Age. But most likely it will go down in history as the Age of Mediocrity.

Trying to Focus - There is, of course, a simple cure for all this product clutter—besides going into the stores and slapping radioactive warning stickers on any package that uses the word "lo", "lite", or "luncheon meat" (three of the scariest words in the English language). More focus groups.

The Over-Gathering Instinct - It’s possible that collecting is a genetic disposition handed down to us by our cave dwelling forefathers who spent their leisure hours carving stone shelves on which to keep their collection of Cave Barbies, which included Hair Dragging Barbie, Gatherer Barbie, and in the later, more enlightened years, Hunter Barbie. After all, reruns of The Dick Van Dyke Show hadn’t been invented yet.

Eating to live  - Try this test: The next time you make a sandwich or salad for someone, ask them if they want sprouts on it. First, they’ll accuse you of being from California. Then they’ll say "No thanks, I don’t eat anything that has a face or begins with the letter ‘s’ and ends in ‘prouts’." Don’t be a wise guy and try to fool them by putting the sprouts on anyway. The smell of musty, dirty sweat socks gives it away every time.

Slugging it Out in Oregon - The contestants for this year’s Slug Queen included Slugareina (who did a slimy variation of the Macarena), Birtha (the token pregnant contestant), Princess Paulina (a guy in a wheelchair), Visca and Gastropia Nudibranchia (Siamese slugs attached at the dress), and Slugmistress Bagonda, a 6’4" guy in drag who won the crown this year after having failed in two previous attempts.

A Sensitive Subject - As anyone who’s ever seen a baseball player, a construction worker, or Michael Jackson will attest, men are very concerned with their penises. That’s why they grab them so much—they want to make sure it’s still there and intact. And why shouldn’t they? John Wayne Bobbitt left his unguarded and you remember what happened to his.

Open Mouth, Insert Someone Else’s Words
Ventriloquism may be a lost art, but that hasn’t stopped people from putting words in the mouths of dummies. Just look at Washington, DC. Now look at it again but try not to laugh this time.  The Republicans claim President Clinton put words in Monica’s mouth. The Democrats swear Ken Starr put words in Clinton’s mouth. About the only thing everyone can agree on is that Clinton managed to put both his foot and Monica’s cigar in his own mouth, neither of which sounds like a particularly tasty treat.

Tempting Fate
Being mortals, it’s fun to defy death from time to time. For most of us this need can be fulfilled by crossing the street in Manhattan, nuking a frozen burrito without reading the instructions or ingredients, and trying to picture Bill and Monica together in the Oval Office without choking on our cigar.  But for some this just isn’t enough.

Death, Politics, and None of the Above
It’s never too soon to start thinking about the next presidential election. After all, no matter how much trouble Clinton gets himself into he won’t be able to run—the Founding Fathers assured this when they declared that no one in their right mind could stand more than 8 years in office. This means we need to start looking for someone who can serve our country by keeping the economy on course, handling touchy foreign policy, and supplying us with plenty of material for late night TV monologues.

Basic maternal instincts
A lot of the things we do in life are based on instinct. Survival, sex, and staying away from TV shows on the UPN Network are all fundamental human instincts that help us get through life intact. They allow nature to take its proper course while freeing our conscious brain for more important things, like wondering how many soys have to be milked to make the soy milk for our decaf latte and whether the soy farmers treat them humanely.

Microwave your checkbook
Machines exist to make things happen quicker and more efficiently. Inventions let us automatically do things we could never do before. And gadgets, well, they serve no real purpose other than to make money for the company putting them out while using up precious drawer space and disappearing that one time in our life when we could actually use them.

Talk to the animals
As humans, it’s our God given right to look down on the so-called lower forms of life such as animals, vegetables, and the people who approved this year’s batch of new TV shows. After all, it’s a scientific fact that our brains are more highly developed, our culture is more sophisticated, and we don’t sit around picking lice off each others’ heads. Well, unless you have children in grade school. But that doesn’t mean we can’t learn something from those species which are less fortunate than ourselves.

Eat, drink, and thank God for Purina
Going out to eat should be a lot simpler than it is. First you have to decide what kind of food you want. Then you choose the restaurant. After you figure out what to wear, where to park, and whether the hostess at Sizzler is considered a maitre d’ and should be tipped, you get to stare at a menu that makes War and Peace look like a Post-it note while the waiter or waitress rattles off a list of specials that they’ve been studying for two days yet expect you to absorb at the rate of 300 words per minute. This can make dining out a much more stressful situation than it deserves to be.




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