PROBE: November 22, 2001

November 21, 2001

QUESTION: In "The Star-Spangled Banner" there is a line, "The land of the free and the home of the brave." What evidence is there that Americans are "brave?" What is the most dangerous thing Americans will face this Thanksgiving? — Thankful, Holtville

We think (hope) the most dangerous thing Americans will face this week will be Thanksgiving dinner with its overload of fat, sugar and calories. The average American will stow 4,000 calories Thursday, double the number consumed on a normal day. That's enough calories to lay on a pound of fat.

It may be a little less dangerous than the trip to grandma's house in the family car but more dangerous than flying across the country. Like the specter of anthrax arriving in the mail, the threat of food oozing with artery-clogging cholesterol leaves us in a state of anxiety.

We don't want to do it. We don't want to cook and nobody wants to eat the food but the president said we have to act naturally and be vigilant. Naturally that means stuffing until we can't move but remaining alert to CNN coverage of the new war.


We do it because that's the normal thing to do on Thanksgiving. We shove in the turkey, trimmings and pecan pie until our abdomens are tight as drums. Nobody has tighter abs than Americans after a big holiday dinner. You could beat time for a Sousa march on our stretched abdominals.

If we didn't do it, we would feel bad, like a homeless, unloved person. We travel thousands of miles to get home to break bread with family.

When it comes to getting to that turkey-laden table, we scoff at danger, braving sleet, snow, sandstorms and Middle Eastern terrorists to get home to Mom's lethal gravy and desserts.

It's just proof again that Americans are the bravest people on earth. We come from a long line of brave people. The sailors on the Nina, Pinta and Santa Maria believed the boats would sail right off the edge of the earth. Not that it would have mattered. Most didn't get home again anyway.

People kept coming to America, setting up colonies that disappeared before the ships got back. Back in Europe, folks with itchy feet would discuss what the last guys did wrong and conclude they had a better idea.

It was absolutely miserable in Ireland during the potato famine. Blight turned the potato vines black. With no potatoes, the people starved and died.

So the Irish set out in droves to try their luck in America. According to the History Channel, one of every seven who set out on the journey died before reaching the United States.

While Europeans were heading to the New World, Americans moved west, pushing aside Indians wielding tomahawks. They dragged their wagons through desert sands and over snow-covered mountains. From New England to California, it was 3,000 miles. Most walked every step.

One in 10 died before reaching the goal. It was the price paid to fulfill our manifest destiny. Can you imagine the odds of coaxing your spouse on a venture with a 10 percent chance of dying?

Today we want better odds. The chance of dying from a smallpox vaccination is about two in 1 million. The odds of dying from a smallpox infection is 30 percent and higher.

After the first couple of cases of confirmed smallpox diagnosis, the line for the shots will extend around the block.

This is still the land of "the free and the brave." We come from a long line of brave people. But brave is not a synonym for foolhardy.

Let's have another piece of pie. No, not the pecan. How about the pumpkin? It's healthier. Happy Thanksgiving!

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