MAD DOG: Do You Miss Manners?

While everyone's all hopped up about January 1st -- booking restaurant reservations, buying stock in, and honing those "It's not really the new millennium, you know" arguments -- no one seems to be paying attention to another milestone that's coming up on October 12th. Not only is it the 507th anniversary of Christopher Columbus refusing to ask for directions and landing in the wrong place, it also marks the day when experts predict the population of the Earth will hit a whopping six billion.That's a lot of people. In fact it's a billion more than were on the planet twelve years ago. To put this number in perspective, if on October 12th every man, woman and child on Earth were to stand on each other's shoulders the stack would reach from here to the moon and back twelve times. And win the Human Pyramid competition at the National College Cheerleading Championship, beating out all those Texas teams, pissing off a lot of mothers, and probably resulting in at least one fewer person being alive on the planet.There are ways to look at it which take the edge of it. At his current net worth Bill Gates could hand each one of those six billion people $15.24 in cash and still have enough left over to buy Mexico. Well, as long as the head of the national police wanted to sell it. Come to think of it, that doesn't help. It's still a lot of people.With this many bodies packed onto the planet we'd better make sure we start treating each other with courtesy, respect, and "Hey! I'm not done talking to you, bonehead! Quit skipping to the end of this paragraph, will you?" While it seems all we ever hear about is road rage, hate crimes, people fighting on The Jerry Springer Show, and the English newspaper The Sun running topless photographs of princess-to-be Sophie Rhys-Jones in the name of exposing the truth, it's good to know that some people are trying to be civil, even if they're passing legislation to do it.In Louisiana, where any given night on Bourbon Street in New Orleans puts Rhys-Jones to shame, the state legislature passed a bill making it mandatory for students to address teachers and other school employees as Mr., Mrs., Ms., or Miss. This really isn't as silly as it sounds, since they also have the option of using "ma'am" or "sir". Legislators debated long and hard over whether to include "Yo, teach", "Hey you", "Underpaid", and "What's the matter, couldn't get a real job?" as alternate greetings, but decided they needed to reserve some Official Salutations for themselves. Not to be outdone, members of Congress have been working hard to become more courteous. The House of Representatives, you may recall, is where Pete Stark called a female colleague a whore and Dick Armey renamed Barney Frank as Barney Fag. True, this is nothing compared to the Taiwanese Parliament, where they've been known to have out and out fistfights, but that's only because Jesse Ventura is a governor and not a member of Congress. So far.In the name of etiquette, manners, and any excuse being a good reason to take a free trip away from the family, two hundred legislators went to Hershey, Pennsylvania last March to learn how to behave. They listened to an actor dressed as Abe Lincoln. They were lectured by a Nobel Peace Prize winner. They short-sheeted each other's beds and had shaving cream fights in the halls. But at least they were polite about it. Even in New York City, known as much for people being rude as, well, people being rude, there are signs of improvement. Mayor Rudolf Guliani (Official Motto: "I can kick Hillary's butt around Times Square") has made this a priority, going so far as to send the police to sensitivity training and cab drivers to courtesy school. He's so into it he even stopped signing his letters "Fuggedaboutit, Rudy."This new found attitude is not only taking root, but spreading through the city. Recently a man died on the subway and the body rode around for five hours before transit police arrested him for loitering. Just kidding. Well, about his being arrested, anyway.While skeptics say this was a case of New Yorkers not wanting to get involved, it was actually a demonstration of their newfound civility -- they didn't want to disturb what they thought was the poor guy's nap. This marks a major change in the New York attitude. In the old days they would have seen the subway car as half empty, now they view it as being half full. Which, of course, makes it a much better hunting ground for mugging.So when October 12th rolls around and the world feels a little more crowded, don't let it get to you. Instead of pushing for a little more space on the bus, cutting in front of someone at the checkout line, or leaning on your horn when someone cuts you off on the freeway, take a cue from our leaders. Show respect to a teacher. Smile at your Congressman. And if you see someone sleeping on the subway put a blanket on them, wipe the drool from their chin, and place a Hershey's Kiss on their lap for when they wake up. The other 5,999,999,999 people in the world will thank you for it.

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