NEW! IMPROVED! It's Potomac Confidential's New Year's pinata, stuffed to the gills for the new millennium, retooled for the Aughties. Guarantee: An idea in every mouthful.
Hey, who'd have thought we'd ever be exhausted by hype about Genghis Khan and Johann Gutenberg? Luckily, we need not hear about them again for a thousand years.
The person I'd like not to hear about for the next thousand years is the publisher of the Los Angeles Times, Kathryn Downing, who promised never again to set up a deal in which advertisers get a voice in deciding what goes into the news pages. Downing had no idea that it's cheesy to sell the news part of the paper to advertisers. This is like the chief executive of McDonald's saying he didn't know his customers might like ketchup on their burgers and fries.
Which recalls a recent story about how ketchup is elbowing salsa aside in the condiment sweepstakes. It's not that the spunky upstart has lost its bite; rather, the makers of the old favorite are somehow persuading kids to pour the stuff on pasta, eggs and even beans. Aside from such revolting uses, ketchup's potential lies in getting more folks to use it for its God-given purpose -- on burgers. Only one-third of U.S. burgers are properly dressed with a dollop of ketchup, Heinz says.
Heinz might turn its attention to McDonald's, whose managers appear actually not to know that people like ketchup on burgers. Otherwise, why would they make it harder to get ketchup than to reach your medical insurer on the phone? First, at many of the "restaurants," you have to remember to beg for ketchup before you leave the counter. Then you must plead for more of those delightful little packets. Next, you open a dozen or more packets to get enough ketchup for a bag o' fries. Finally, you rush off to the dry cleaners to deal with the blob of ketchup that squirted onto your white shirt as you opened packet number 17.
Free consulting report: If ketchup is so darn precious, sell the stuff. That's what they do at McDonald's in Germany, where you must not only ask for ketchup, but pay about 40 cents for it. It's Ronald Reagan's Heaven on Earth -- ketchup is finally a vegetable.
Germany has more than its share of unusual definitions. Here's the latest example of what passes for consumer protection in the Fatherland: When Lands' End, the mail-order clothing company, began offering its products to Germans, it included its standard guarantee that any customer dissatisfied with any garment could simply return it for a refund. "Verboten!" cried the German authorities; refunds would violate the nation's cherished sense of fairness. To be sure, not too many consumers would see this as terribly unfair. But businesses that do not care to refund anyone's money -- ever -- might. So the German government took Lands' End to court, and won. Germans will have to make do with lousy service and exorbitant prices. Which is why, when some German friends visited us, they swept through Hecht's, buying three of every item. The bundles filled entire rooms in our house. "America is like the Third World; everything's almost free!" one of them crowed. Maybe this is why Germans have so many friends.
The grass is always greener. Except when it isn't. We in this country are not above acting like buffoons. Didn't you swell with pride when the parents of Dylan Klebold, one of the Columbine High School shooters, said they were preparing to sue the pants off their county government because the police didn't pick up on the odd behavior of Eric Harris, the other shooter?
And here's something to make you feel charitable toward your fellow man: It comes courtesy of USA Today, which after 17 years still manages to come up with flimsy statistics each day so we can all feel superior to everyone else in our U.S.A. Sixty-nine percent of us say the everyday item we would least want to live without is toilet paper. Fine. Zippers come in second. Strange, but okay. In third place is frozen foods. Just the frozen ones, thanks. No, you keep the fresh stuff. Makes you want to hold your head high and march right into the year 2000.
"The year 2000." You'd have thought that phrase would be gone by now, but here we are and there it is. Are we stuck with this for the next thousand years? Will our descendants say, "Hey, Martha, it's almost the year two thousand six hundred and forty-seven"? Do we say this to distinguish this 2000 from "the vegetable 2000" or "the song 2000"?
Back to those Aughties. Aughts? Naughts? Every decade needs a name. Otherwise, how can we possibly make facile, pretentious generalizations about the young twerps who will make our lives a tad more miserable in the next 10 years? The Zeros? Ohs? Zips?
Back in college, I worked at an Old Guard reunion, which included aged gents from the Class of '09, which they called "aught-nine." Things have changed considerably since then. Things have gone too far, which is why we should perhaps dub this decade the Aught-Nots.
Marc Fisher's e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org