Now that all of the other print and broadcast news organizations have selected their biggest, most important and momentous news stories of the past year, it’s time to take a different kind of look backward.
In honor of all of the marvelous news stories reported in 2002, I have elected to present a special series of awards to those who generated the news. Please join me in welcoming our winners:
* The Prize for Economic Exploitation of the Euro goes to a customer at a bar in the town of Auch in southern France. On Jan. 1, 2002, the day the euro replaced national currencies in 12 European countries, the customer paid his five-euro bill in Monopoly money. The funny money was accepted as payment. (Monopoly has a euro edition.) “It was the first day of the new year,” the bar owner said. “We were tired after being open so late the night before.”
* The International Democracy Award is presented to the pilot of a charter flight that left Milan, Italy, with 250 passengers bound for a holiday in Cuba. As the aircraft took off, one of its engines burst into flames. The pilot announced that he had resolved the problem, but this failed to assuage the passengers’ fears. The pilot finally asked the passengers to vote on whether they wanted to continue or to return to Milan. They voted overwhelmingly to return.
* The Ebenezer Scrooge Award for Customer Relations is given to America West Airlines for removing a passenger from a San Francisco-to-Tucson flight after the man jokingly asked if they “had checked the crew for sobriety.” This occurred a week after America West discharged two pilots for operating an aircraft under the influence of alcohol. “We take any comment regarding safety seriously,” an America West spokeswoman said. She did not explain how the passenger’s remark might have compromised the safety of the flight.
* First place in the Radioactive Materials Accountability Competition is presented to the Dominion Millstone Power Station in Waterford, Conn. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission announced that two radioactive fuel rods missing from the plant were probably shipped by mistake to underground disposal sites. The rods were discovered missing in 1999, but records indicate the plant could not account for them as far back as 1980.
* The First Annual Rorschach Decency in Art recognition is given to the city fathers of Catania, Sicily. The officials had workers bolt an iron codpiece onto the statue of a horse to hide the figure’s penis. This was done because a religious procession, including an effigy of the Virgin Mary, was scheduled to pass on the street in front of the statue. “It is almost inconceivable that in the third millennium someone should cover a horse’s private parts for the Madonna,” remarked a local animal welfare proponent.
* Conseco Inc. has merited induction into the exclusive Curse of the Stadium-Naming Society. The only requirement for membership is that honorees must have declared bankruptcy after buying name sponsorship of a sports arena. Conseco filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in December, joining the other members of the society: United Airlines, US Airways Group Inc., WorldCom Inc.’s MCI Group, Adelphia Communications Corp., Enron Corp., PsiNet Inc., National Car Rental owner ANC Rental Corp. and Trans World Airlines.
* The International Language Education Award goes to the city of Tainan in southern Taiwan. Its garbage trucks last year began broadcasting English lessons from loudspeakers as they hauled away the city’s trash. “This is Tainan’s first step toward internationalization,” stated the city’s mayor, whose wife came up with the idea. Tainan’s garbage trucks previously broadcast classical music as a way to notify residents to bring their rubbish to the curb.
* The Grand Pajama Award of the Strange Bedfellows Fraternity is being granted to Paul H. O’Neill, former secretary of the Treasury. Mr. O’Neill went on a long promotional tour to Africa with rock star and social activist Bono, who referred to himself as CEO of U2 Corp. The trip generated a worldwide media frenzy and substantial awareness for the problems of Africa, but didn’t help the outspoken official. He was kicked out of bed by President George W. Bush in mid-December.
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