A Foreign Policy Primer - `Now With Avocado'

WHAT'S wrong with this country, aside from "light" beer, is that Americans don't know anything about foreign affairs. Your average American can't even answer basic questions about geography, such as:

1. In which direction does the Nile River flow?

2. What can the letters in "Great Britain" be rearranged to spell?

(Answers: 1 - Downhill; 2 - "Big Titan Rear.")

Tragically, we Americans are too busy sitting around watching worthless juvenile mind-rotting TV situation comedies such as "Dave's World" (Monday nights, CBS, check your local listings) to learn about foreign affairs. This is bad, because what happens abroad can greatly affect our lives. For example, if tensions were to mount again in the Middle East, fighting could break out, and it could escalate to, God forbid, nuclear war, and this would almost definitely affect our TV reception.

This is why today I'm going to present a Foreign News Update, starting with an important story from the Sept. 2, 1993, Times of India, sent in by alert reader Tapash Chakraborty. This article, which I am not making up, states: "Villagers of Khajuria in Ganjam district worshiped a frog on Monday to please the rain god Indra, as the dry spell continued to delay cultivation." The article further states that "a big live frog tied with a bamboo stick was carried by villagers who roamed in and around the village chanting couplets in honor of the wife of Lord Indra."

The article does not give the exact wording of the couplets. Probably they went something like:

We need rain; your wife is great

Here's a frog; let's cultivate!

The article also doesn't state whether this effort resulted in rain, but I'm sure it did. If you're a rain god, and you have people waving a frog around and chanting about your wife, you're definitely going to dump something on them.

But whether or not it worked, the point is that the villagers of Khajuria DID something about their problem. They did not just sit back and wait for "the other guy" to worship the frog. We need more of that kind of gumption in this country. Take the economy. People have been whining about the economy for years, but nobody does anything about it. I'm not saying we could get the economy going again by worshiping a frog. Please do not take me for a total idiot. We have a huge, complex economy, and we'd need a much larger amphibian, such as a manatee, or, if he is available, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy.

Speaking of frogs, many alert readers sent in an Associated Press report concerning an incident in Manchester, N.H., which is not technically a foreign country, but you'll want to know about this incident anyway, because it involves a woman who opened a bag of pretzels and pulled out a pretzel with a one-inch frog baked onto it. The AP sent out a photograph showing the actual pretzel, and sure enough, there's a frog sort of welded onto it, looking crouched and ready to hop away, except of course that frogs become very poor hoppers after being subjected to the pretzel-baking process, as has been verified in countless laboratory experiments.

My first thought, when I saw this article, was that maybe the frog had been put there on purpose. We live in an era of increasingly complex snack-food variations, such as Jalapeno Cheddar 'n' Onion Graham Crackers ("Now With Avocado!"). It's entirely possible that marketing experts at the pretzel company were simply enhancing their product line ("Now With Frogs!"). But apparently that was not the case with these pretzels, so the woman took them back to the food store, which gave her a handsome baked prince.

No, seriously, the store gave her a refund, so all's well that ends well. But that does not mean we should relax, not with these alarming cheese-related developments that are taking place in England. I refer to a May 26, 1993, UPI report, sent in by alert reader Clyde E. Morgan, which begins: "Fourteen people were injured taking part in the annual Double Gloucester cheese-rolling race." I am still not making this up. The article states that this race takes place every year, and it involves "rolling large round slabs of cheese down a hill," with individual cheeses "reaching speeds of up to 50 kilometers per hour." Last year, 27 people were injured.

The question is: What if this kind of semideadly activity catches on in this country? I, personally, am not worried, because I live in South Florida, which is extremely flat; plus, even if you could get a large cheese rolling down here, passing armed motorists would blow it to smithereens. But what if people start rolling cheeses in, say, Colorado? What if you get one of those big babies hurtling down a Rocky mountain, straight toward - to pick a worst-case scenario - a John Denver concert?

. . . friends around the campfire,

And everybody's hiiiEEEE (SPLAT)

Is that the kind of nation you want your children to grow up in? Me too.

Dave Barry is a humor columnist for the Miami Herald. His column appears Monday on editorial pages of The Times.