At a press conference yesterday in Washington, Attorney General John Ashcroft delivered this statement in response to the growing concern surrounding the president's episode with a pretzel:
"As we pursue our investigation into the Pretzel-gate crisis, I admonish Americans to remain on a heightened state of alert around salty snack foods of all kinds. Each of us - whether we prefer potato chips with ruffles or without - has a role to play.
"At the same time, I want to remind everyone not to cast indiscriminate blame for the recent attack on our president. The cupboard of this great country is rich, because it contains a range of snacks - from the vibrant orange cheese curls to the tart new taste of craisins.
"Isolated reports of vigilantism are of grave concern. Just last week, in Arizona, the Pillsbury Doughboy was accosted by hungry dieters and punched - not lightly tickled, but punched - in his tender belly. Needless to say, he did not giggle. This Justice Department will not tolerate such actions.
"Effective immediately, I'm ordering the removal of all pretzels from flights originating in countries suspected of sponsoring or harboring salty snack foods. To the leaders of those nations, I say, 'You can't eat just one.' Make no mistake, we will find the Frito Bandito - dead or alive.
"In addition, I'm asking Congress for legislation to help the FBI track the alarming proliferation of pretzel shapes. Since 1983, pretzels have strayed far beyond their traditional curlicue into straight, fat, thin, stubby, and even cheese-filled, which is just gross. Under our proposed background-check system, anyone wishing to buy these dangerous snacks will have to show proof of mental competency and wait five days before opening the bag.
"I'm heartened to report that last night federal marshals foiled a major snack-attack. At 10:30 p.m., a tall, well-dressed man wearing a monocle and carrying a passport under the name 'Mr. Peanut' was taken into custody at Logan airport in Boston. Authorities have determined that the man's cane shows traces of both walnuts and cashews. If convicted, he could be honey roasted.
"As encouraging as such developments are, they can't take the place of individual vigilance and common sense:
Don't eat snack foods alone or in groups.
Keep a supply of oxygen on hand.
Grind all dry snacks into a fine powder and mix them with water before eating.
"Following steps like these can't guarantee your safety, but they can greatly increase the chances of surviving a light snack."
Ron Charles is the Monitor's book editor and an occasional satirist.