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Fork-Beard, Vlad, and the Fat King of France 

The last millennial retrospective you need to read

Wednesday, Jan 5 2000
As we awake this week, peering into an uncharted thousand years, it might be wise to look back and survey the terrain we've traversed so far. Or at least you'd think so, after two years of insipid news articles, books, treatises, and other verbiage devoted to last Friday's odometer turnover.

Take, for instance, Time magazine's Person of the Century issue: "There were magical folks who could make freedom radiate blah blah blah ...."

Or Newsweek's ironic (heh) millennial retrospective: "Montezuma: He got his revenge, though too late to enjoy it blah blah blah ha ha ha blah blah ...."

Or the San Francisco Chronicle poet (No?) Joan Ryan: "We scan a thousand years of mankind East and West; And reflect, too, on the century and list, the worst and best. We talk of all we're doing for the millennium that's pending ... blah blah blech, bleeaugh."

Here at SF Weekly, we take seriously our duty to serve and protect. Or clean and disinfect. Or inform and entertain. Or whatever. We won't settle for the brand of wimpy-assed, hundred-or-so-year retrospective that's been clogging newsracks, bookshelves, airwaves, and packet switches.

We've just finished a millennium. That's mil-len-nee-um -- a thousand years. Who can possibly rank Ty Cobb among the epoch's heroes, when our past millennium was launched just as two Danes -- Svein Fork-Beard and Knut -- were scheming to unseat Aethelred "The Unready" from the English throne?

What's the point of toasting the fall of the Berlin Wall, when 880 years before Henry I nearly united the kingdoms of England and Normandy by marrying his son William Audelin to the daughter of Count Fulk of Anjou?

Must we really rehash World War II, given the fact that Louis VI, the Fat King of France, spent 1124 shrewdly defeating a joint attack from England and Emperor Henry V?

We think not.

Disheartened by the 20th-century shortsightedness of our colleagues, SF Weekly would rather look back on the past millennium in its full sweep, providing our readers with a deeper sense of the prologue to our present, and future.

1076: Henry IV spends the better part of a week standing barefoot in the snow outside the palace doors of Pope Gregory VII, pleading for forgiveness.

Centuries later, world leaders will still prostrate themselves before sanctified seers for transgressions ill-defined. (See Clinton, Lewinsky, et al., America, late 1900s.)

Early 1400s: Vlad the Impaler retakes the throne of Wallachia. Vlad makes a habit of killing large numbers of peasants by driving them in herds over cliffsides onto beds of spikes below. Also boils, quarters, decapitates.

Six hundred years later, another tyrannical megalomaniac impales all peasants in his path. Also boils, decapitates. (See Bill Gates vs. Competitors circa late 1900s.)

1597: Sultan Mehmed III of Turkey secures his reign by ordering the murder of 19 of his brothers while they are still boys.

Four hundred years later, political leaders still stop at nothing to conserve their reign. (See Willie Brown vs. Tom Ammiano, San Francisco Mayoral Election, circa December 1999.)

1617-1789: Turkish Sultan Ahmed I launches tradition of solitary confinement, rather than murder, as means of containing rival siblings. For nearly 200 years, Turkish princes are kept alone, except for sterilized concubines and deaf-mute guards. Princes who do attain power are often ignorant, deranged.

1998-1999: Three hundred years later, Turkish system adopted worldwide. Ignorance, derangement made requisite for political office, newspaper and magazine editorship, other posts. Helpless, journalists forced to write millennial retrospectives.

2000: Cycle begins anew.

Historical research assisted by Editorial Administrator Fiona Gow.

About The Author

Matt Smith


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