The two great child scares of the week, the "chicken flu" crisis in Hong Kong and the 600-plus epileptic fits caused by the flashing red eyes of a TV cartoon monster in Japan, caused most of the world's newspapers to sound the alarm. Asahi Shimbun in Tokyo reported that the TV station that broadcast the cartoon show had apologized in only a guarded way, refusing to accept responsibility, while the Japanese government, it claimed, was resolved to get to the bottom of the problem. Quoted in the London newspapers, British TV regulators oozed smugness, saying that such frenzied eye-flashing was already forbidden on British screens.
In Hong Kong, the South China Morning Post gave blanket coverage to the flu virus with which Chinese chickens have infected several small children, killing two. But the newspaper's practical advice to the public seemed excessively relaxed under the circumstances, saying merely that flu symptoms include fevers and chills and can take as much as two weeks to recover from. "Do not struggle into work," it begged the industrious Hong Kong Chinese. The infection of two infants whose little cousin had already caught the flu was being urgently studied by the Hong Kong health authorities because it suggested that the virus might also be transmittable among human beings, the SCMP said. An official health spokesman said the virus had so far been "relatively inefficient" but might now mutate into a more virulent form.
In Europe, the holiday mood was beginning to take control of the press, though it was generally devoid of any spirit of peace or goodwill. In Britain, the Times reported on its front page how a little boy in Yorkshire had been struck across the face by a department-store Santa Claus after questioning his legitimacy, claiming to have seen another Santa Claus in another department store only a short time beforehand. "Christopher was crying his eyes out," the boy's mother said. "All the innocence has gone and it can never be replaced."
But columnist Auberon Waugh (son of Evelyn), writing in the Daily Telegraph, blamed the existence of such fake Santa Clauses on the influence of the United States and mentioned that, "according to an American psychologist called Professor Jim Hoot, the modern American child is so terrified by the experience that it should be seen as a form of child abuse." The Times, incidentally, launched the most perverse Christmas charity appeal in history with an editorial asking for money to save the threatened Ethiopian wolf, which it said had fallen victim to "a rabies epidemic and canine distemper spread by the wild dogs used by the Oromo tribe for herding their cattle." "Beside the ox, the ass and the sheep around the Christmas manger, the wolf is an unusual candidate for Christmas benevolence," the newspaper admitted. "But this is the last chance for the Ethiopian wolf."
In the patriotic British tabloid the DailyMail, there was another attack on the United States, this time over the practice of eating turkey at Christmas. Calling for a return to the older British tradition of having roast beef or goose, right-wing political columnist Simon Heffer said turkey was "yet another unfortunate example of the Americanisation of our glorious culture." Anti-Americanism was evident in the French press as well, with Libération in Paris claiming in an editorial that U.S. concessions at the recent "global warming" summit in Kyoto, Japan, amounted to a rare Wild West victory by the Red Indians over the Cowboys. This was, it said, the first time the United States had accepted any kind of limit to its economic expansion: "The old Indians of Europe and the countries of the South have lassoed the American cowboys, who have been left without adversaries since the collapse of the Soviet Bloc."
But the Jerusalem Post was on the United States' side, urging the Israeli airline El Al to choose Boeing rather than the European Airbus for its new fleet of airliners, despite the fact that the commercial arguments were finely balanced. It recalled the United States' $3-billion-a-year aid for Israel and said that France, the leading member of the four-nation Airbus consortium, was always opposing U.S. foreign policy, "and in ways that directly jeopardise Israel's interests."
The JerusalemPost also quoted the Christian mayor of Bethlehem, Hanna Nasser, as saying that the pope would not attend the "Bethlehem 2000" millennium celebrations unless there was an end to "the Israeli annexation of East Jerusalem," although one of the central purposes of the event is to create a splash by bringing the pope together with Islamic and Jewish leaders. This may give a better chance of success to the much-mocked millennium celebrations in Paris and London, the former involving the Eiffel Tower laying an egg and huge plastic fishes poking their heads out of the Seine, and the latter--as caustically emphasized in all of today's British newspapers--involving no known purpose at all apart from the building of a giant dome at Greenwich at a cost of more than $1 billion.
The Italian newspapers are reporting, meanwhile, that the Vatican has successfully requested the withdrawal for further consideration of a CD intended for the Christmas market in which the pope's singing voice, taken from Vatican tape recordings, has been set against a background of rock guitars. It is said to be concerned that this might give the wrong impression.