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by Stephen Lautens


December 31, 1999

There's no better proof that we're living in the last days more than the endless lists every journalist produces in the New Year.

It's bad enough to have to read the "best of / worst of" lists for the previous year, and positively painful to review the entire decade. Especially one as lacklustre as the 90s, which will be remembered as the decade when the level of human achievement was measured by how many Air Miles you collected.

Some writers are looking back beyond the last decade to the events of the last century to give us a historical perspective on how far we have come. The problem is, these days history is considered anything that happened before Titanic ­ the movie, I mean, not the ship.

So even though I am one of those people who thinks the Millennium doesn't end for another year, I can't resist jumping on the bandwagon - so here's my list of the greatest achievements of the last 1000 years:

The Printing Press: It is well known that the first book produced was the Bible. What is less well known is the fact that the second book ever printed was: "I'm OK, Thou ist OK, But I Suspect Thy Mother to be a Witch in League With Satan and Must be Burned at the Stake."

The first self-help books eventually gave way to naughty woodcuttings of saucy tavern wenches with impossibly thin ankles and ample bosoms, which led to five hundred years of fad diets, eating disorders, and eventually Pamela Anderson.

Books gave way to magazines, and the first letters to the editors followed. Like this fragment from Heidelberg dated 1523: "Deare Editor, Always did I thinke these letters to be fake, but last Michaelmas Eve I had a lusty romp with two comely lasses..."

Come to think of it, most of the best inventions of the last 1000 years have been almost immediately used for sex.

After charting the heavens and marvelling at the wonder of creation, I suspect the next heavenly body Galileo examined with his telescope was Mrs. Funnetti having a shower in the window next door. This led to two of the other great inventions of the millennium: curtains and the restraining order.

Photography was invented to preserve the march of human history, and was used to record the terrors of the American Civil War. Not very long afterwards, revealing tin-types of Mary Todd Lincoln were being passed around the Confederate trenches.

Photographs gave way to moving pictures. Audiences were inspired by uplifting films like Ben Hur, Birth of a Nation and Sophie's Choice. We left the theater better people.

Of course, movies also solved the problem of what to do at a bachelor party, which led to classic stag films like "What the Swedish Butler Saw", or more recently, "Shaving Ryan's Privates". Thanks to that other great invention of the millennium, the VCR, adult movies are now a multi-billion dollar business and as close as your local video rental store.

The Internet was created two decades ago to keep open lines of communication between scientists during a national crisis. Who'd have thought it would now be making millionaires out of 12-year olds?

Worst idea to be revived in the last thousand years? I think it's a toss up between Milli Vanilli and the The Crusades. True, fewer people died during the Milli Vanilli comeback tour, but then again, thanks to TV a lot more people saw them.

How these things have enriched our lives. I wonder what marvels the next millennium holds?


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