Year In and Year Out

Happy New Year!

No, I am not still jet-lagged, and thus, confused, after my trip to England. This week marks Chinese New Year, a holiday which we in North America ignore because only a billion or so people celebrate it and Budweiser is not yet a sponsor.

According to the Chinese Zodiac, I'm a rat, but that's another story. Also according to the Chinese Zodiac, this is the Year of the Sheep. Celebrities who were born in previous Years of the Sheep include, perhaps illogically, Leonard Nimoy and perhaps prophetically, former UK Prime Minister John Major.

The media, which aren't at all sheepish about churning out lots of stories on a theme, have sent dozens of photographers out for accompanying pictures of sheep (which are, by definition, sheep shots).

Indeed, just to, ahem, ram it down readers' throats, CNN found a story about how some people in China are going for a new `sheep chic' look – getting their hair done to imitate the natural look of sheep. I'm hoping this means the `natural curly wave look' of sheep wool, and not the `natural, I'm-naked-and-freezing-my-rump-roast-off' look of a recently shorn sheep.

If it is the curly-wavy look they're after, I can sympathize. Like most Chinese people, I too was born with ruler-straight hair, and without a great deal of spritzing, electrocuting, floofing, curling and microwaving, I look like Mr. Spock on a bad hair day. Just proving, I guess, that if hairdos count, that theory about six degrees of separation puts Mr. Nimoy and me on the same A-list. Really.

You may laugh, but pretty soon you too will be eyeing the way sheep look with envy. That's because scientists have recently discovered that sheep have unusually “robust and muscular bottoms.”

Setting aside the fact that any scientist who goes around contemplating sheep derrieres has spent far, far too long in the lab, the discovery has interesting consequences for genetics. Apparently, some sheep have a gene called the “callipyge” gene, with callipyge being Greek for “beautiful buttocks.” Given that another famous Greek word is pi, this proves that: Ancient Greek priorities included kebabs and dessert.

No, seriously, it means that sheep bodies put their fuel resources into muscle instead of fat. Scientists aren't quite sure how this gene works, except that it's passed down from the father – in the mother sheep, the gene is inexplicably turned off. This means that for generations, ewes around the world have been saying: “Will you look at him? All he does all day is sit on his butt chops and eat, and he doesn't gain an ounce! Me, I look at a blade of grass and put on ten pounds!” and also: “Does this wool sweater make me look fat?”

So what does this discovery mean for you personally? It means you're about to be bombarded with advertisements for fitness videos made by sheep that are hiring out as personal trainers. I predict titles like: “Lean, Mean, Mutton Machine” and “Buns of Steel and Rack of Lamb.”

And it's just as well sheep will soon have another line of work to get into. Oxford University researchers have recently determined that counting sheep is not an effective way to cure insomnia, because – and I know this will come as a shock to you – it's too boring.

Actually, this discovery was made several years ago, but Sheep Local 521 suppressed the news release – in fact, they pulled the wool over everyone's eyes in an effort to preserve jobs. Union officials said the fear was that without the night shift work, sheep would be forced to hire out as natural lawnmowers.

However, given the price of gasoline lately, sheep could do worse. Even when undercutting the local gas pump, they could probably make a mint… sauce.


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