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The Last Time a Republican Reigned in Big Business - 1903

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Saturday, February 23, 2008

Und der weiner sprecken, nien, du ist ein campfire girl.

I get the feeling that Germany is trying to refine their Teutonic sense of humor. Perhaps they hope to replace England as having the best sense of humor in Europe. And its going about as well as you would think. As an example, a waitress at a hamburger joint in Mainz was about to hand a bag of cheeseburgers to a customer at the drive-up window when a man suddenly appeared and grabbed the bag out of her hand “slightly injuring her” in the process, and then fled from the scene. Based on her statement the cops released the following description of the villain; a male, 1.7 to 1.8 meters tall, wearing a full-body ape costume and mask.” So far there are no arrests, but it seems to me the would-be practical joker missed the point. He shouldn’t have stolen the cheeseburgers from the lady’s hand while wearing an ape costume. That’s so 1970’s. He should have handed her a bag of cheeseburgers. A deliver to a drive-up window: now that would have been funny.

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Some Germans understand the basic rules of joke construction. A couple of weeks ago special overnight train from Leverkusen was jammed with cheerful (i.e. drunk) football (i.e. soccer) fans, headed to a match with Hamburg (i.e. an excuse to get plastered) when some swinehund broke the tap on one of the beer kegs. Ach du Leiber! Ein booze ist kaput. Gotterdam! Swinging into action with typical German efficiency the rail company, Deutsche Bahn, halted the train at the very next station. Fans piled out of the suddenly dry conveyance. Would there be a riot? That wouldn’t be funny. Instead, puzzled commuters (it was 9:30 in the morning) were treated to twenty-five minutes of loud and enthusiastic and drunken football songs and chants until a special taxi arrived from a local beer hall with a replacement spigot. The fans then happily re-boarded the train and resumed their jovial journey with all kegs working. God only knows if the fans would have been so complacent had the handle on one of the toilets broken.

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Of course the true test of a nation’s sense of humor is not how they tell a joke but how they take a joke, and Poland has recently been playing some ‘pranks’ on their neighbor, almost as if to test this experiment in funny krauts. The cover of the Polish magazine “Wprost” recently featured a photo of the German Chancellor, Ms. Merkel, naked above the waist, breast feeding a pair of Polish politicians, President Lech Kaczynski and his twin brother, Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kacyznski. The magazine’s editor explained, “We thought of it as a little joke,” or “…skromny m figiel” in Polish. In German this translated as, “Fuck you, you strong German rolling in shit pig (ficken Ihinen, Sie starke deutsche sich uberfressen). The Germans are still unsure how to react to this, although some of the nationalistic and conservative parties have made a few suggestions. And, of course, the neo-Nazi’s would love to respond but in Germany, they are still illegal.

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But the true test of the new humor spirit in Germany may be what the United Nations has done at the memorial site, officially labeled the “Auschwitz-Birkenau Nazi concentration and extermination camp.” You see, at the urging of the Poles, this year, 62 years after the war ended, the U.N. agreed to change the name of the memorial by inserting the word “German” right before the word “Nazi”: just in case anybody forgot who started the Nazis. And it seems the Poles were a little concerned that some people might think that anti-Semitic Poles had helped the Nazis murder the one million victims of the camp. Whereas, anyone familiar with Polish Church history would know the Poles never chased the Jews out of Poland, or burned any at the stake, or officially blamed them for murdering Jesus. The Polish Church has often spoken out against anti-Semitism, often. Not always, but often. As a church spokesman, Father Jozef Kloch, explained, “…you can’t expect us to take a stance (against anti-Semitism) on every occasion.”

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Good, point, Father. And how do you feel about anti-Catholicism? How about abortion and divorce, Satanism and secular humanism? And do you feel that way on every occasion you hear about them? Because, I was just wondering.

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Leaping Leap Years

I think we can all agree that there are 365 days in a year, except for those years evenly divisible by four, which have 366 days: unless that year can also be evenly divided by 100, in which case they have 365 days again; unless they can also be evenly divided by 400, in which case they still have 366 days. The key to this convoluted system of leap years is Christopher Schlussel, better known by his adopted name Christoph Clavius, and that is actually a little linguistic humor since the German word for key is a “schlussel”, while in Latin a key is called a “clavius”. Ah, German jokes are so much better when told in Latin, aren’t they? “Duo flaccus homo abbulo accedo caupona”. But if you think figuring leap years are complicated you can thank your lucky stars that we no longer use the Roman calendar, because those people would have made the French seem logical.
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See, the Roman calendar was based on the phases of the moon with a 19 year cycle because…it’s not important, trust me. Their calendar began with ab urbe condita, or the founding of the city of Rome (our 753 B.C.) and began with the year “1” because the “0” had not yet been invented. Their year was 355 days long and had just ten regular months - Martius, Aprilis, Maius, Iunius, Quintilis, Sexitilis, September, October, November and December - but they didn’t begin their year with the first of Martius because they didn’t have a first of anything. The Romans only had three actual dates every month – the kalendae (the new moon), two Nodes (the waxing and the waning moon) and the Ides (the full moon). This is why Julius Caesar was warned to ‘beware the Ideas of March’, because a full moon allowed plenty of light for all that conspiratorial running around in the dark. Individual days each month were only noted as so many days before the kalendae (or whatever) of the month. This is how you keep your calendar if your checks have to be dated the X-V-I of Quintlis. (And, yes, the word calendar came from the word kalendae.).
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But the primary drawback to the old Roman calendar was that to make it all come out right every year they had to insert an 11th month, Mensis Intercalaris, right after Martius. But whether it was 23 or 24 days long depended on certain mystical astronomical calculations regulated by the “Pontifex Maximus”, who was an elected official. It was as if George Bush had ten months left in office but how many days were in each month was to be determined by Florida election officials. And since Julius Caesar was the Pontifex Maximus in 44 BC, he might still be in office today if the special senate select committee on term limits hadn’t stabbed him to death. But before he was term limited out, Julius had ordered a fix to the old calendar. The new Julian calendar had 12 equal months. January was added at the end of the year, in the winter, when nobody would notice, and a leap year was introduced every four years.
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But the Julian Calendar was still a little long – by over 9 days by the 100 years later, leading to confused robins and tax collectors, and big fights within the church about how to determine the start of a full moon and when Easter was and what day of the week Easter was on, etc., etc. And that was why Ugo Boncompagni, aka Pope Gregory XIII, was thrilled when he was handed a rather obscure volume entitled “Compendium of the New Plan for the Restitution of the Calendar”, which was written by a doctor and math nerd named Luigi Giglio, whose non deplume was Aloysius Lilius.
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Just a quick note about poor old Ugo Boncompagni; this guy was the George Bush of Popes. Everything he touched blew up in his face. He encouraged the King of Spain to build the Armada, and offered him a bonus for the first Catholic soldier to land in England. Needless to say, Phillip never collected. Ugo expanded the inquisition, determined to reconvert all those Lutherans in Switzerland by force, and thus brought an end to the Catholic Holy Roman Empire. Nobody has even tried to invade Switzerland since, not even Hitler. And Ugo was probably the last Pope to die flat broke. He did more through sheer incompetence to destroy the power of the church than did Luther and Calvin together. In fact, about the only thing poor old Ugo did right was to recognize the genius in Luigi Giglio.
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Unfortunately Luigi had died 6 years before Ugo read his book, so Ugo turned the book over to his favorite Catholic overachievers, the Jesuits, and asked their best mathematical brain, Christopher Clavius, to check Luigi’s math. And Christopher knew the Catholic world needed three things; to lock in the date of the spring equinox as March 21st or 22nd, because that would keep Easter anchored securely in the spring; solve the problem of the wandering seasons, and please bring sanity to the length of the year. Not unexpectedly, the mathematician Clavius and his team of mathematicians saw the whole thing as a giant math problem.
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What the Jesuits couldn’t know, because they didn’t have a decent atomic clock, is that a year is actually longer than 365 days by 11 minutes and 14 seconds - approximately. Now the simplest thing would have been to ignore those extra minutes, and let them pile up for 128 years until they equaled a complete 366th day. But Clavius didn’t even have the luxury of knowing that the earth revolves around the sun, because he hadn’t accepted that idea just yet. But he had invented the decimal point, and he did encourage the use of the “0”, which made his intricate calculations much easier. And he confirmed Luigi's numbers, which boiled down to was this; thirty days hath September, April, June and November. All the rest have thirty-one, except February, which has 28, except in a leap year when it has 29. See how simple that is?
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So thanks to Luigi Giglio, Christopher Schlussel and poor old Ugo Boncompagni we now have a calendar that repeats every 400 years, February 29, 2008 and February 29, 2408 are both Fridays, and our calendar is good for the next 3,000 years. But there is a minor hick up in this magnificent system. It was recently discovered that the year 4000 ought not to be a leap year. Panic should follow shortly.
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Friday, February 22, 2008

I'LL SUE YOU!

I believe that Dr. Margaret McIntyre’s primary problem was that she thought the law followed the rules of a sane society. And in any sane society Dr. McIntyre knew that a doctor, particularly a pediatrician such as herself, someone with 25 years of experience and a retired Naval Officer to boot, was outside the scope of normal civic responsibilities and authority. So of course Dr. McIntyre was offended when, last November 14th, a Federal court clerk in Norfolk, Virginia denied her an excuse from jury duty. So of course she attempted to straighten the clerk out, and was eventually ushered into the presence of Federal Court Magistrate F. Bradford Stillman, and of course she then regaled his honor with a 15 minute explanation as to why he was wrong and she was right. It was simple logic. She began with her views on better judicial use of the court’s energies. “I just can’t believe I have to come down here for jury duty and be treated like this,” she explained to the judge. “This is incredible. This is like a nightmare out of an American sitcom. You have nothing better to do than to harass an American citizen who’s done nothing.” She added, explaining to those in the courtroom, “He’s not the president. He’s a judge. He’s a federal employee who ought to be doing something important other than treating me like this.” Then she challenged the judge to put her in jail. And when he suggested that perhaps she should get herself a lawyer to deal with the contempt of court charge she was laying on her, Dr. McIntyre refused to be intimidated. She told the court, “Oh, great. So I have to spend a thousand billion dollars now again on lawyers for something I didn’t even want to do to start with.” And yet, the judge continued to refuse to see the logic of Dr. McIntyre’s position. Some people are so ill rational.
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Clearly looking for a way out of the predicament he had created for himself, Judge Stillman suggested, “Ma’am, I don’t think that we can accomplish anything more today. I’m trying to be as fair to you as I can.” But if he expected Dr. McIntyre to be too polite to continue to point out his plebian behavior, clearly he did not know Doctor Margaret McIntyre. Without hesitation she told him, “Well, you’re not talking to me like a person. I’m not in preschool, you know. I’m not a kindergartner. I don’t need to be sat down and told to sit like a dog.” She then launched into a lecture for the poor misguided judge as to the correct definition of the word “contemptuous”, at which point Judge Stillman, seeing that he was clearly losing the argument, ordered the Federal Marshals to remove her from the courtroom. Clearly, Federal Marshals are the last refuge of a petty despot. But Doctor McIntyre put them in their place at once, telling them, “Don’t touch me”, as they guided her from the courtroom.
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Unfortunately this story of the triumph of ‘pediatrical’ dignity over common non-medical degree vulgarity does not have a happy ending. After consulting with an attorney Doctor McIntyre was made aware that Judge Stillman could throw her ass in jail for 30 days and fine her up to $2,000. After which she came to the logical conclusion that, for $2,000 and 30 days of freedom, she could eat crow. And so 3 weeks later, after her PMS wore off or she sobered up or her husband apologized, she reappeared before Judge Stillman and this time let her attorney do most of the talking, offering her observations only when specifically asked for them, as when, through her tears, she told the judge, “I’m sorry.” Actually the reporter from the Virginia Beach Pilot said she “bawled” her apology. But in any case the judge ordered her to pay a mere $250 fine. Yes, it was humiliating for the doctor, but at least she gets to take out her frustrations on her patients, because they are just little kids and who listens to them, they don’t have a medical degree.
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According to their web site Rush University Medical Center is in the midst of…”a campaign to raise $300 million. Our plans are simple: to transform Rush into the medical center of choice for all of Chicago, and one of the best clinical centers in the nation…” But if you are going to be the best, besides having to raise a lot of money, you must also be a bit ruthless: and Rush has shown itself to be clearly that. Back in 1996 Mr. Robert W. Sessions, who had helped to develop one of the first pacemakers, made a pledge of $1.5 million to help build a “President’s House” for his Rush and Rush agreed to name the building after Mr. Sessions, and Mr. Sessions put the pledge in his will. So, of course, in February of 2005, when Mr. Sessions found himself a little short of breath, he checked into Rush as a patient. There the talented doctors of Rush decided he had emphysema, and began treatments. But Mr. Sessions had doubts and a couple of weeks later he got an exam at a different hospital. And the second diagnoses was not nearly as cheerful; late stage lung cancer. An angry Mr. Sessions immediately changed his will, in March of 2005, and deleted the donation to Rush shortly before he died in April, of the lung cancer which the doctors at Rush had missed entirely.
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So you can imagine the surprise of the Sessions family when Rush inquired as to how soon they could expect the check to fulfill the pledge. And perhaps you can even imagine the surprise of the Sessions family when an Appellate Court ruled that “Mr. Sessions made an irrevocable and unconditional pledge to Rush, and that Rush expended substantial funds in reliance of that pledge.” The court ordered the grieving family to pay up, all $1.5 million. Evidently, in Illinois, killing your donor is not grounds for losing the donation. You see what I mean about the ill-logic of court room logic?
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Or consider the case out of Mr. Austen Ivereigh, who was head of public affairs for Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor, and an editor for the largest Catholic Newspaper in England, The Spectator, effectively making him the spokesman for the Catholic Church in England. Mr. Ivereigh has a long history of public remarks concerning abortion and what in the U.S. are called family values. But he freely admits that over the past twenty years he has impregnated two women outside of marriage, one a graduate student back in 1989 and another while in his current position. Both women told the London Daily Mail that Mr. Ivereigh “drove them to consider abortion…” with one woman (who was pregnant with twins) claiming he “…maneuvered her into a position where she had no choice but to abort her baby.” One woman had an abortion and the second suffered a miscarriage. She told the paper, “This man is a hypocrite. He can’t condemn abortion, and the women who have an abortion, but then get woman pregnant and absolve himself of any responsibility to support them or their child.” But Mr. Invereigh’s attorney told a court that he did offer to support the children and added that some women “bitterly regret having an abortion and seek to blame others for what was their decision.” And why does Mr. Invereigh have an attorney? Is he being sued for impregnating the two women? Is the church suing Mr. Ivereigh for violating a morals clause in his contract, which paid him about $90,000 a year? No, it is Mr. Ivereigh who is suing the Daily Mail because they printed the charge that he is a hypocrite.
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When the Daily Mail’s lawyers alleged in cross examination that Austen, “...acted hypocritically, contrary to the beliefs of your church, in a callous and cruel way towards both of these women”, Mr. Ivereigh replied, “I deny that.” He did agree that he had violated a central tenet of his faith in having sexual relations outside of marriage, but added, “This is one area of church teaching I have always struggled with and failed to live out. That doesn’t mean I don’t believe it.” And then, with all the apparent sense of irony of a drunken Oscar Wilde, he described his cross examination as “…eviscerating – like having your guts torn out.” As the English papers say, the case continues.
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I suppose a court somewhere might consider it libel if I were to suggest that Mr. Ivereigh is a fool, a horny bastard, a pompous jackass and a hypocrite. And if I were dragged before an English court I might even be convicted of libel for writing that. I would be bankrupt, but he would still be a hypocrite. Lady Justice is blind, but she is not supposed to be deaf. And she is not supposed to suffer from PMS. But that is, sadly, often the logic of the law.
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Wednesday, February 20, 2008

YOU ARE VOTING FOR WHO...?

I am about to tell you something you do not want to hear, so let me cloak it in an alliteration to make it more palatable: to borrow the words of the theatrical Mary Magdalene; “I don’t know why he moves me. He’s a man. He’s just as man.” There, did that hurt any less? I hope it did. But of course those are also the words, in reprise, of Judas Iscariot, also from “Jesus Christ Superstar”, so maybe you are now offended, but at least now you know of whom I am referring, because the Superstar of the moment can be none other than Senator Barack Obama, Superstar and junior Senator from Illinois, the land of Lincoln. But is Barack another Lincoln? He couldn’t be of course because Lincoln wasn’t Lincoln until after he was dead. Before he was dead Lincoln was just another politician, and worse, he was a mouth piece for the railroads, the mega-corporations of his day. His last year in private law practice, 1859, Lincoln made an estimated $100,000.00, or about 2 million in today’s dollars. And nobody picked him for sainthood because everybody was looking for the next George Washington or the next Andrew Jackson. And Lincoln sure as hell wasn’t up to the standards of George Washington. Now, do you need to hear what a schmuck post-revolutionary Americans thought Washington was?
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Could Obama be another Hula-Hoop? Wham-O sold 20 million of those plastic hoops in six months over the summer of 1958, at $1.98 a pop…in 1958 dollars. But by November sales were almost dead and knock off hoops had cut the price by over half. So Wham-O moved on to the Frisbee. And after Obama whom would we move on to? I tell you, I feel a little like Eve Arden in all those movies from the 1950’s; the world weary best friend who just wants the best for you. I am not telling you to dump Gig Young and marry Cary Grant…I am just telling you to follow your heart, and your head. But did the teenaged girls listen to Eve when the Beatles walked on stage in 1964? They couldn’t even hear her over their own orgasmic screams.
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But, of course, that is the problem with democracy. As a system of government it is based on the obviously idiotic notion that the average person is willing to sacrifice to achieve what is best for them in order to win what is best for the nation as a whole. But then we also believe in capitalism, which is based on the concept that nobody does anything for anybody without getting paid for it. The nation’s great shinning moment was WWII, when we united for the common goal of defeating the Axis. But what is conveniently forgotten is that shinning moment was based on “cost-plus” contracts. The federal government contracted to buy all the tanks, jeeps, trucks, guns, ships, planes, etc. that General Motors could produce, and agreed to pay whatever it cost, plus a guaranteed profit margin for GM. American business couldn’t lose, unless America did. In other words, democracy’s shinning moment wasn’t so shiny. And here we are again, at the crossroads, believing in faith, believing in a politician, praying that what we know to be true is not true. And how is that different than the eight years of denial that we are just recovering from? Ah, reality. What a bummer.
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Shrub isn’t convinced global warming is a human effect. Shrub isn’t convinced government should actively defend the average American. Shrub isn’t convinced science can make the world better. Shrub isn’t convinced the nation can afford universal health care. Shrub isn’t convinced the nation can afford to regulate the oil companies, or the power companies or the stock market or the meat packers. And none of that was hidden. He may have lied about WMD in Iraq, but he never lied about his program of hobbling government and turning big business loose. He promised to do that. And he did it. And that means that everyone who voted for Shrub got just what they asked for. And part of Shrub’s current abysmal approval ratings are buyers’ remorse. Are we about to make another impulse purchase? Is this the check out line of democracy, with all those yummy overpriced candies and gum right there, where you can just grab them? And how stupid do the people of Connecticut feel now, having re-elected wrong way Joe? Do they feel stupid? Why should they feel stupid? They got what they asked for.
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Wrong way Joe Lieberman, after empowering the Shrub administration for another two years, is now backing John McCain. And who else could beat the Superstar, other than the war hero, the pragmatic, experienced, old curmudgeon from Arizona. With the right advertising campaign, McCain could win. In which case Wrong Way Joe would be right and the voters of Connecticut could be the biggest winners in America. It could happen.
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Will it happen? How the hell do I know? But I do know this...While everyone seems to have figured out it would be impossible for Hillary Clinton to convert Barack Obama’s people, has anyone given thought to how Hillary could be convinced to step out of the way? Would her election not also be historic? Is her ego not at least as big as his? Are her supportors any less vital to the Democratic party? Why should she, and they, step out of the way? Why should she not split the party if she and they are not respected? What would a compromise be worth to her? Those are the practical questions that have yet to be answered.
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And while we are asking practical questions; if Obama defeats Hillary, does he not become the “inevitable candidate”, which was her weakness that he exploited? And could McCain not exploit the liberal groups, like “Daily Kos,” that have championed Obama’s cause, framing this election as “The moderate pragmatists against the revenge of the liberal loonies”? It could work. We could still lose this election. We have still have nine months to go before election day. A lot of bad things can still happen. And the pure emotion is not going to carry us that far, that long.
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And I am left feeling just a little uneasy. As the song goes, ”Don’t you think it’s rather funny, that I should be in this position? I’m the one who’s always been so calm, so cool, no lovers fool…he scares me so.”
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