Who Says Editorialists Aren't Fun?

AN occupational hazard of editorial writing is allowing oneself to get heavy. Not in the waistline; in the policy line. To be sure, the world is a serious place, beset by troubles that cry out for thoughtful analysis and, we hope, the lift of a constructive idea. But come on, readers and colleagues remind us, you can be sober without being somber, pondering without being ponderous. Hey, lighten up!

Full of resolve to shed pounds of intellectual portliness, you cast about for a good light subject. You rummage through the books, pamphlets, newspapers, government reports, think-tank position papers, almanacs, and atlases scattered in, on, and beside desk, bookcase, and window sill in your office, brushing aside tables of manganese production in Africa, charts of median incomes in Latin America, and graphs of voter turnout in Bangladesh. All very interesting, but not light.

You're about to give it up, to turn back to the comfortable realms of geopolitics and socio-economic bigthink, when your eye lights upon two newspaper accounts of an American who has become a sports hero in Japan.

One Saelvaa Fuauli Atisanoe, a 490-pound Samoan-American from Hawaii, has - we learn - just won a major sumo wrestling championship in Japan, competing under the ring name Konishiki. He's only the second foreigner to rise so high in the 300-year history of the indigenous Japanese sport, whose carefully prescribed rituals are rooted in Shinto tradition.

The irony is delicious! In this time of unsettling change, when Japan is emerging as a financial sumo on the world scene, keeping American products out of its markets while gobbling up great amounts of United States plant and real estate, a football-loving guy from Waikiki is beating Japanese titans at their own game. And - get this - he even received the de rigeur telegram from President Bush. How droll.

You savor the cheerful paradox, toying with puns and comical imagery. But suddenly you realize that all this fun, this levity, this lightness, is wearying. Duty done, you emit one last chuckle, and with relief settle back to read about Czechoslovakia and the confused Indian elections.

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