A short history of fools05-01-2001
What a morning. Talk about a double whammy. In addition to losing an hour's sleep to daylight-saving time, there are all those silly jokes.
In fact, this is the first time April Fools' Day has coincided with the annual spring forward.
Whether you were either the perpetrator or the butt of a silly prank this morning, you participated in a venerable tradition. While the origin of April Fools' Day is cloudy, people have been pulling gags on each other on this day for hundreds of years.
A poem in the 1790 edition of Poor Robin's Almanac noted, "the first of April, some do say/Is set apart as All Fools Day" but concedes no one really knew why.
Ancient Romans supposedly celebrated spring with a festival marked by gags and practical jokes. Another notion pegs the tradition to an April 1 rout of a Spanish army by the Moors.
The antecedent cited most often dates April foolery to the late 16th-century change in the calendar. Before that, the New Year was observed with an eight-day celebration that started with the spring equinox March 25 and ended with Mardi Gras-like exuberance April 1.
In 1582, Charles IX of France decreed that the calendar introduced by Pope Gregory XIII a few years earlier would become the rule of his realm, moving the start of the year to Jan. 1. Although Charles' word was law in those days, news of the edict was slow to spread and slower to be accepted. Traditionalists who continued to celebrate the New Year on April 1 were called "Poisson du Avril" or April fish and were sent fake party invitations and prank gifts.
The practice spread to England and Scotland. The Scots liked the idea so well they expanded it to April 2, or Taily Day, which is dedicated to pranks involving buttocks. This is reported to be the origin of the "kick-me" signs stuck to the backs of the unwitting.
English settlers transplanted the tradition to the New World, where our unsuspecting forefathers were sent on various "fools' errands."
One more modern prank in college dorms is to set a roommate's clock ahead one hour; on this particular April 1, however, that would actually be doing the roommate a favor.
But we're not alone. In Portugal, April Fools' Day is celebrated on the Sunday and Monday before Lent. The traditional trick there is to throw flour at your friends.
Other countries from India to Sweden also have their own April fools traditions. In India, people celebrate the feast of Huli, which ends on March 31 and is a day to make mischief. Mexicans and other Latin Americans celebrate a prankish Dec. 28 called El Dia de los Innocentes.
SPEAKING OF APRIL FOOLS' JOKES, this week we were contacted by a press representative for U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden, (D-Ore.) regarding a column last Sunday about pending congressional legislation concerning airline passenger rights.
The Airline Customer Service Improvement Act, introduced by Wyden and a bipartisan group of senators, was unanimously passed by the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee and sent to the full Senate for a vote.
The act requires airlines to give passengers timely, accurate information regarding delays and cancellations. In addition, airlines would have to include the customer service commitments in carriage contracts they make with passengers, rendering them legally enforceable. The Department of Transportation will have to review its own regulations to ensure airlines meet the bill's requirements.
Unfortunately, passage of the act is by no means guaranteed, especially given Washington's increasingly anti-regulatory environment. Furthermore, in a move clearly designed to head off congressional legislation, the 14 major carriers that make up the Air Transport Association have announced their intention to institute similar measures, but on a voluntary basis. Last August, the ATA used a similar strategy to stall federal measures when they introduced their 12-point customer service commitments.
The issue is complicated by other factors, including the continuing consolidation of carriers through merger and acquisition, along with the increasing gridlock of the nation's air lanes.
To a degree, however, it's all smoke and mirrors designed to deflect public outrage at airlines' increasingly unreliable schedules. Indeed, Norman Mineta, Secretary of Transportation, admitted little can be done in the short term to ease the traffic crunch. The rolling waves of unpredictable delays and cancellations will continue for the foreseeable future, and are like to get worse. To make matters worse, the cost of air travel is also expected to soar.
In fact, the only realistic remedy is for fewer people to fly. Service commitments are important, but more timely flights are essential.
Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.