Happy New Year’s Eve, all. We hope yours is safe and fun.
The print journalists of the world will certainly enjoy themselves this evening. For them, this is the end of the craziest two weeks of the year, when they’ve got to crank out their publications in exactly half the usual time to allow for late December’s long weekends. They begin around November 30th with the best of intentions, writing immense to-do lists, cutting down on the nightcaps, sleeping and rising early. Then, inevitably, things go wrong. They procrastinate; freelancers fall through; the art director goes on a bender.
Sensing that circumstances are about to wreak havoc with their publication schedules, editors will, at this time, assign some of their editorial bench-warmers fluffy, easy-to-write stories that take approximately 30 minutes to compose, and which have something to do with Xmas, Kawanza, or New Year’s Eve. (Chanukah is excluded, as it comes earlier in the month.) One of the most common space-filler New Year’s Eve stories is something called “Local Psychic Forecasts XXX For 200X.”
Here is an item that ran on Al Jazeera last Saturday:
I wonder if the footage of the “witch” burning — which the reporter claims is “three months” old — is actually from the springtime incident we reported on here. (Note: If you click on that last link, do yourself a favor and don’t watch the video, unless you feel you need an extra jolt to achieve a level of righteous anger commensurate to something as wrong and pitiful as the burning of alleged sorcerers in an era in which one of the mob can record the spectacle in hi-def.)
There are two good things about this story, the first of which is that it actually exists. Although specific figures are unavailable, we may extrapolate from local tallies that the fear of witches has ruined the lives of tens of thousands of Africans in the last two decades, and has likely resulted in thousands of deaths.
I would normally advise against introducing a line of lingerie called “Itches Like Hell,” or a line of cat food called “More Hairballs.” Likewise, if we were on the eve of birthing the world’s first critical thinking movement, I might look for a more positive-sounding brand name than "skeptic."
But let’s not waste our time. The eve has passed, the movement has been snowballing for years and, with it, "skeptic" has strongly emerged as moniker-of-choice. Trying to change the name now would be about as fruitful as trying to get old movie buffs to start calling the late, rough'n'tough cowboy actor John Wayne by his given name, Marion Morrison. "Skeptic," at least for now, is here to stay.
Not to worry. Many respected brands rise above names which, in isolation, might not seem optimal. For a modest sampling, consider names like Smuckers, Wii, Dick’s Sporting Goods, Grey Poupon, Virgin, Crab Shack, Dress Barn, The Beatles, PMS (Pantone Matching System), Chubb, Gap, BJ’s Wholesale Club, Allied Waste, Athlete’s Foot, Costco, Beano, and Seimens. By comparison, making something positive out of "skeptic" doesn’t seem so daunting after all.