Welcome back to the Year of the Monkey. No, that isn’t low-grade satire, it’s a reference to Chinese astrology. And for all you Horses (1978 babies) out there, this year you “will be met with all sorts of inauspicious events. A heavy workload will not guarantee a just reward and recognition from your peers.” The only way to combat this, fellow equines, is simply to refuse a heavy workload. (But then I’m a Leo, so I would say that.)

The intention to work harder was not prominent among my New Year’s Resolutions. To stop fantasizing about actors during seminars was, to rid Yale of vanilla hazelnut coffee was, to work harder was not. High on the list, however, was a firm commitment to record items of information that may be of interest or edification to the scalpel-sharp readers of the News. Unfortunately, my break was a little light on interest and edification, so, instead of mental and spiritual elevation, let me tell you a story.

Once upon a time there was a man, and this man had a young godson. Being a fine and upstanding young man, he bought his godson a book of well-loved tales as a Christmas present. Sadly, this young man had a ne’er-do-well younger brother who was incapable of keeping his filthy paws off other people’s books, and this scapegrace brother duly looked through the book before the young man could wrap it up. And do you know what he found, children? That’s right, the story of Chicken Licken.

The story of Chicken Licken is very simple. One day, an acorn fell on Chicken Licken’s head, and he thought, “the sky is falling! The sky is falling! I must tell the king!” And on his way to tell the king, he met and recruited Henny Penny, Goosey Loosey, Turkey Lurkey — I swear I’m not making this up — and any number of rhyming farmyard fowls. Sadly, on their way to the king, they met Foxy Loxy, who took them back to his den and ate them.

Clearly you see the point. Chicken Licken is a perfect analogy for our times. If your major sources of information and comment are the New York Times and — with affection, respect and groveling obsequiousness — the Yale Daily News, you would be forgiven for thinking that the sky was falling. Chicken Licken and his comrades are alive and well, but now they go under different names: Michael Moore, Maureen Dowd and many more according to taste, even in the august pages of the News.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not peddling some complacent Panglossian belief that all is for the best. I am not any fonder of the right-wing Jeremiahs who believe that electing Howard Dean will result in “YMCA” replacing “The Star-Spangled Banner.” It just strikes me as a little sad that, when there are so many good, sane reasons to oppose President Bush and his administration, the loudest voices raised in dissension are the apocalyptics whose prophecies of doom bear less and less resemblance to the real world.

Now, I don’t read Greensboro’s Rhinoceros Times as assiduously as I should, but in November, the sci-fi author Orson Scott Card wrote in the Times that “the national news media are trying as hard as they can to pound home the message that the Bush presidency is a failure. Even though by every rational measure it is not.” If the situation remains the same, he concludes, “then I can’t be the only Democrat who will, with great reluctance, vote … for George W. Bush.” The demonizing of the President is not only doomed to failure, but also self-defeating, because the President is, quite patently, not evil. Nor is he an idiot. Yet the Democrats are missing the chance to hit him where it hurts, because they prefer a cacophony of dislike to a serious assault on his vulnerability. With every Janeane Garofalo who refers to “a conspiracy of the 43rd Reich,” there will surely be an objective observer who looks round and realizes that the sky is not, in fact, falling, and begins to wonder about the judgment of those who insist that it is.

When they asked back home, I offered my opinion that America has an imperfect, but not disastrous, President doing an imperfect, but not disastrous, job. For what it’s worth, this Blairite Englishman hopes that Senator Lieberman wins in November; but then, I also hope that Claire Danes turns up at my apartment with a dinner reservation. Neither is likely to happen, but if I’m still writing about President Bush in February next year, Chicken Licken and friends may have to stop squawking and take another look at the sky.

This is election year, and campaigns are naturally vitriolic. Fair enough. But to retain a sense of perspective, may I suggest that our resolution for 2004 — to adapt an old horror movie tagline — should be: “keep telling yourself, it’s only an acorn, it’s only an acorn…”