On this Day of Love, in this season of Lent, let us suffer the fools.

Today is St. Valentine's Day, and 2002 happens to be one of those semi-rare years where the day of love and chocolates happens to fall inside of Lent. Being a practicing Catholic (practicing, as in Lord knows I'm nowhere near perfect at it), I'm going to try to make my Lenten sacrifice a little bit more special this year.

Besides giving up the usual, that being the consumption of chips, cookies, fries, meat and basically all foods classified as "fast," I'm also going to suspend a couple of activities that I really enjoy.

Therefore, on this Day of Love in this season of sacrifice, I'm announcing that for the next 46 days, I will refrain from ridiculing those most easy of all targets--home-schoolers, charter schools and vegetarians. Yes, all you people who inexplicably do inferior things to help make yourselves feel superior, you won't have Tom Danehy to kick you around any more ... at least until the Pascal Sacrifice, anyway.

But first, I have to clear up a couple things that have been nagging at me. As I mentioned in an earlier column, letter writers who fall in certain aforementioned groups have a tendency to use the same phrases, cite the same (false) sources and put forth the same lame arguments. Some of the letters have been published in The Weekly's letter pages with blatantly false assertions that, due to editorial fiat, went unchallenged.

The worst was from some woman who basically called me a liar because I had used the irrefutable fact that Adolf Hitler was a vegetarian as a punchline in a previous column. She claimed that an article in something called the (ahem) Vegetarian Voice stated that Hitler ate meat, and that his alleged vegetarianism was a propaganda ploy used by Joseph Goebbels. (Several e-mailers made the same claim and accused me of doing shoddy, or no, research.)

So I went to look it up, not on the Internet, which is full of junk, misconceptions and lies, but at the UA library, which is full of books, periodicals and manners-less students talking on cell phones.

I looked at seven different books and all stated unequivocally that Hitler was a vegetarian. In Hitler: A Study In Personality and Politics, it says: "(Hitler) suffered from severe flatulence and stomach pains. The causes of these disorders were almost certainly a combination of the effects of a vegetarian diet. In 1931, deeply disturbed by the suicide of Geli Raubal, Hitler turned against meat for no obvious reason. He remained a vegetarian for the rest of his life."

(As a side note, this Raubal woman was not only the one true love of Hitler's life, she was also his niece and 20 years his junior! Was this guy cool or what? The consensus is that they never physically consummated the relationship, but that he was so obsessed with possessing and controlling her that she finally took the suicide solution.)

John Toland, whose exhaustive two-volume biography, Adolf Hitler, is considered the definitive work in this area, writes, "(After Raubal's suicide), nothing on earth would make him eat meat again. He had made such remarks in the past, but this time, he meant it. From that moment on, Hitler never ate another piece of meat."

Now, it should be noted that this was years before the Reichstag fire, the Sudetenland and almost a decade before World War II. I'm not saying that his being a vegetarian had anything to do with all this, but I've always had the sneaking suspicion that Germany attacked France because they found out that the French served dessert. Lord only knows what kind of rage Hitler flew into when he found out that Americans eat barbecued ribs!

Seriously, the indisputable fact that Hitler was a vegetarian really doesn't mean anything. It certainly doesn't mean that vegetarians are evil. It's just a cute little historical tidbit with which to poke fun at people who take themselves and their lifestyles too seriously.

Of course, there is always the chance that some hardcore veg-heads will still pathetically attempt to dispute this fact. So, it's your choice: Do you believe EVERY serious biographer who has ever written on the subject, or do you go with an obviously self-serving article in something called the Vegetarian Voice? Hmm?

Then there are the home-schoolers who continue to churn out word-product at a prodigious rate. We've already decided that their paying taxes does NOT entitle them to ignore rules and common decency by trying to put their kids on high school athletic teams. So now they have taken another tack.

In each of about 25 e-mails I've received this week, someone starts a paragraph with, "Have you ever heard of Einstein?" What, is that a trick question? Finally, I e-mailed one guy back and he claimed that Einstein was home-schooled and that he hated public schools. And, get this, the guy got that information ... OFF THE INTERNET!

So, it was back to the research. I own two biographies of Einstein and both state that he attended public schools, as did his children. In Richard Rhodes' Pulitzer Prize-winning book, The Making of the Atomic Bomb, it states, "(Einstein) was slow to speak, but he was not, as legend has it, slow in his studies; he constantly earned the highest or next-highest marks in mathematics and Latin in public school and Gymnasium."

Rhodes adds, "It was not the autocracy of the German school that he despised. 'Politically,' Einstein later wrote, 'I hated Germany itself from my youth.'"

Now, if you want to use that to argue that your cloistered kid should be allowed to play high school sports, go ahead. You can continue to e-mail me all you want; it's actually quite entertaining. However, if you insist on basing your arguments on "information" that even a home-schooled eighth-grader would know to be false, for the remainder of Lent I'm just going to turn the other cheek.

And I don't mean the ones on my face.

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