General

Happy New Year…but it is not the year you think!

Posted in General on December 31st, 2018 by Eugene Finerman – Be the first to comment
A.D. 2019? Not quite. According to the most charitable calculation, our A.D. chronology is off by at least four years.
 
Fortunately, I may have found the birth certificate. Yes, the English is surprisingly good. (Just consider it one more miracle of the Nativity.)
 
So what is the date on the certificate? It is annoyingly blank. The certificate could have said December XXV—there is a 1-in-365 chance of that. It more likely would have been the corresponding Hebrew month of Tevet. But the year? I don’t think it would have been One. Mary might have asked for it, but the Town Clerk of Bethlehem was used to Jewish mothers.
 
The scholars among you would suggest the Jewish chronology. That would be the year 3761. That is an excellent answer; it really deserves to be right. However, it is not. The Jewish chronology would not be established until eleven centuries later.
 
No, the common practice would have been to identify the date by the reign of the local king. The chronology is called regnal. Two of the Gospels date Jesus’ birth as during the reign of an endearing fellow named Herod. He died–of undeservedly natural causes–in the year that corresponds to 4 B.C. So, if Jesus was born in 5 B.C., by A.D. 1 he was half-way to his bar mitzvah.
 
If you are wondering, the Church first caught the discrepancy in the 8th century and tried ignoring it for eight centuries. Attention Dan Brown!!!) By the 17th century, the Church finally conceded the mistake but added “Quid ergo?” So what?
 
That remains our attitude: blithe resignation. We will say that it is 2019. For some, it is an article of faith; for everyone else, it is a matter of convenience.

Morose Poppins

Posted in General on December 19th, 2018 by Eugene Finerman – 2 Comments

“DISNEY TO MAKE MARY POPPINS SEQUEL”

Judging from the critics, this would have been a better script.

Bert is killed in World War I. You’d think a chimney sweep would have more immunity to chlorine gas.  The widowed Mary Poppins tries losing herself in physical abandon and that does help D.H. Lawrence with his writer’s block.

Exercising her long-sought right to vote, Mrs. Banks proudly marches to the polling place and contracts the Spanish Flu.  Mr. Banks will always blame Lloyd-George for her death.

Flying over London, Mary Poppins is shot down in the Battle of Britain.  The victorious pilot has an umbrella painted on his Messerschmitt.

Young Michael Banks goes to Cambridge and meets Guy Burgess. Michael is taken under Guy’s left wing…and other appendages. The least of Michael’s transformations is becoming a Soviet spy. He eventually defects and the shabby old pensioner in Moscow will drink himself to death.

Having gone through four husbands, three fortunes, and innumerable scandals, Jane Banks is now in a nursing home near Brighton. Among her escapades, she had affairs with both the Duke and Duchess of Windsor; but who didn’t?  The Golden Flapper is said to be a literary inspiration for Evelyn Waugh and a medical one for Alexander Fleming.

Yes, the history may be a little sordid for Disney but perfect for HBO.  And there are other children’s classics worth a sequel.  How about John Le Carre’s “Wind in the Willows”?  Who is the Mole in MI6?

The Rite to Vote

Posted in General on November 4th, 2018 by Eugene Finerman – Be the first to comment

Voting has always been an act of faith. In ancient Rome, a votum was a religious vow. If you were underfoot a Carthaginian elephant or had encountered Caligula in one of his zany moods, you could promise the Gods a few sacrificed sheep in exchange for your survival. Those who actually kept their promises were said to be “devout” or “devoted.” By the Middle Ages, Europe’s theology had changed but the definition of votum had not. People were still eager to bargain with Heaven. To avoid the bubonic plague, you too might vow not to beat the serfs for a month.

Votum acquired its political character in 15th century Scotland. That rugged, hardscrabble land fostered an independent, feisty spirit that would not accommodate the king’s attempts to govern. The hapless monarch had only as much power as his quarrelsome nobles begrudged him. To enact any legislation or to organize a raid on England, his majesty had to wheedle a consensus from his lairds and clan chieftains.

Of course, even a tenuous government like Scotland’s had bureaucrats, and someone was recording the proceedings of the royal council. That scribe wanted a term to describe the machinations of arriving at a political decision. Demonstrating his erudition, he naturally chose a Latin word: votum. Unfortunately, it was the wrong one. The Latin word for vote is suffragium. Perhaps the Scottish bureaucrat thought that “votum” meant voice, which actually is “vox” in Latin. His error became the common term in Scotland.

In 1603, Queen Elizabeth of England died. Her reign was glorious, but a Virgin Queen is bad for a dynasty. She was succeeded by her cousin James, the King of Scotland. The Stuarts were long used to groveling to nobles, but they were not prepared to negotiate with a Parliament full of commoners. The Stuarts obviously felt that they had more divine rights than the Tudors did. Rather than face the demands and criticism of Parliament, James I decided to avoid it; he simply wouldn’t call it into session. Of course, he couldn’t raise revenues and the Crown verged on bankruptcy, but James was a miser by nature. His son and successor, Charles I, had more expenses-wars, a French wife and all those van Dyke paintings-so he called Parliament and attempted to bully it. If you don’t know the outcome, you could read his autopsy report.

Considering the Stuarts’ hostility to Parliament, it is ironic that the Scots introduced the “vote” to England. In its political context, the word was unknown. (In its religious context, the word had become rather risky since Henry VIII.) The Parliament had been founded in 1265 and, for more than three centuries, this assembly of gentry, clergy and burghers had been using the correct Latin terms for their legislative decisions. The noun was “suffrage”. The verb was “suffragate.” This was not just legal jargon. The words were in the English vernacular. In Shakespeare’s “Titus Andronicus”, the title character addresses the people of Rome, “I ask your voices and your suffrages.”

However, when the English finally heard the word “vote”, they appreciated its succinct brevity. It was easier to say than “suffragate,” a word now mercifully obsolete. The term “suffrage” has survived but with a more limited meaning: the right to vote. A century ago, some justifiably indignant women made excellent use of the word. As for the word “vote”, it is now purely secular. Yet, it still retains some trace of its origins. All too often, the voter is confronted with a choice of idols, each promising miracles.

 

Thus Spat Zarathustra

Posted in General, On This Day on May 26th, 2018 by Eugene Finerman – Be the first to comment

On this day in 451, when the Persians were much more likable….

Imagine having a Trump fan in the family. That dismay was exactly how Persia felt when Armenia converted to Christianity. Really, what is wrong with Zoroastrianism? Even the Jews never complained about it.

Worse, for a Persian satellite, Armenia seemed to be getting a little too cordial to Constantinople, sending bishops to synods. (It hardly mattered that the Armenian bishops were always picking the losing side in the debates on the Trinity. The Persians couldn’t tell the difference) The Persians decided to suppress Christianity in Armenia, replacing priests with magi. The Armenians could tell the difference and rose in rebellion. Of course, with an army three times the size of Armenia’s, Persia won–on this day in 451.   The Persians spent the next thirty years ruling Armenia.  It turned out that the Zoroastrians had no reason to fear the Armenian Church conspiring with Constantinople.  The Byzantines were so obnoxious; their theological quibbling created schisms among Christians.   So Persia finally offered Armenia its independence on these terms:  you can keep your religion but stay our stooge.  For lack of an alternative miracle. Armenia agreed.

Two centuries later, the conquering Arabs made the same offer to Armenia, but–ironically–were far less mellow with Persia. Convert or die. If you have noticed, those Ayatollahs are not magi.

Lewd de Louie

Posted in General on April 11th, 2018 by Eugene Finerman – 2 Comments

April 11, is officially “Louie, Louie Day”

They may be singing it at the United Nations now…or debating the lyrics.  Here, however, we ask which French king inspired the song.  Let’s consider all the Royal Lou’s of France and the one most likely to be an oversexed stoner.

 

Louis XVIII (1755-1824) could have used a mistress. He disliked his Italian wife but his chief outlets were self-pity and food.

Louis XVII (1785-1795) was merely a child when he died. The French Revolutionary guardians did take meticulous care of the young boy–but definitely not for his benefit.

Louis XVI (1754-1793) suffered from sexual dysfunction–and Viagra wouldn’t have helped. It was some sort of physical blockage. The only solution was surgery. Despite the quality of 18th century surgery, Louis survived the procedure and was even cured. He finally was able to consummate his marriage. However, that was also the limit of his libido.

Louis XIV (1638-1715) was short, unattractive but apparently irresistible. (Royalty frequently is; who dares refuse.) There is a famous story of the Queen, and three of her ladies-in-waiting riding in a coach; they were all pregnant by Louis (although not from the same coach ride). So Louis was certainly was over-sexed but he still found the time to rule rather well. And he never would have referred to Versailles as a pad or crib.

Louis XIII (1601-1643) had a very active sex life, but not with women. What is the male equivalent of a mistress? (Historians can only speculate as to the identity of Louis XIV’s father.) Louis Treize was the Baroque equivalent of a stoner. Fortunately for him and France, Cardinal Richelieu made a brilliant dealer.

Louis XII (1462-1515) had three wives, so he wouldn’t have had time for mistresses.

Louis XI (1423-1483) was too cheap to have mistresses.

Louis X (1289-1316) died young; he was likely poisoned by a sister-in-law who managed her husband’s career. (Yes, he got to be king.)

Louis IX (1214-1270) was Saint Louis, so mistresses are out of the question.

Louis VIII (1187-1226) was married to a Spanish gorgon; he wouldn’t have dared.

Louis VII (1120-1180) had the disposition of a monk. His first wife–Eleanor of Aquitaine–cheated on him.

Louis VI (1081-1137)was known as Louis the Fat. Guess his vice.

Louis V (966-987) was known as the “Do-Nothing” but really did not live up to his name. In fact, he did not live, and so finally accomplished something. So ended his one year rule, his twenty-year life and his 236-year dynasty. He, the last of the Carolingian kings of France, was beset by foreign invasion (the Holy Roman Emperor, his first cousin) and rebellions by the nobles (second and third cousins). Louis really did not get along with anyone in his family; his mother poisoned him.

Louis IV (920-954), alias Louis the Alien (he was raised in England), was so powerless that he couldn’t afford a mistress.

Louis III  (863-882) died at 19, so he didn’t even have a nickname.

Louis II  (846-879), the Stammer, lived to be 33 but his health was as bad as his pronunciation. Even if he had been in better shape, late 9th century France was not a conducive time for hedonism. It was barely conducive for subsistence.

Louis I (778-890) was called the Pious. That nickname would deter most aspiring mistresses.

So, who does that leave….

Louis XV (1710-1774) was handsome, charming and conscientiously incompetent. Usually the inept are unaware of their debilities, but Louis knew precisely how hapless he was and he didn’t care! He let his mistresses run and ruin France. (Madame de Pompadour was a complete disaster–or a brilliant secret agent for the British). If Handel or Haydn had composed “Louie, Louie”, the song definitely would have been about le Quinze.

The Twelve Days of Christmas

Posted in General on December 24th, 2017 by Eugene Finerman – 2 Comments

Why are there twelve days of Christmas?  No, Mary did not have that difficult a delivery,  despite passing a halo through the birth canal.

In fact,  it was a brilliant compromise by the Council of Tours in A.D. 567.  At the time, Western Europe was engulfed in barbarians and the Church there was eager to convert them.   It loved the marketing appeal of December 25th.  Just combine the Winter Solstice with Christmas.  “Hey, who said Christianity isn’t fun!  You can have eternal salvation and a birthday party for the Savior!”

However, the Byzantine Empire, thoroughly Christian, preferred January 6th and the more dignified Epiphany:  Christ’s official debut to the World.  (The umbilical cord should have dropped off by then.)  So the Council of Tours declared that both days—and every day in between—should be celebrated as Christmas!

There were to be 12 days of Christmas, and it was left to time, habit and locale to decide how to celebrate the ten day gap.

The Council of Tours also established conjugal rules for bishops and their wives.  So, the Council was not a complete success.

 

Harvard Versus North Korea

Posted in General on July 6th, 2017 by Eugene Finerman – Be the first to comment

The Death Cage Match You Won’t Want to Miss!!!

Jared Kushner              Vs         Kim Jong Un

 

Jared Kushner:  6’4”, 120 pounds.     Martial Arts training–family dinners.

Kim Jong Un:  6’6″” (he insists), 260 pounds.  Martial Arts training–Eats rabid dogs raw.                                                                                                                                                                                 .

The Stakes

If Jared wins, North Korea must disarm and convert to Judaism.

If Kim wins, he gets South Korea, Tiffany Trump and Ruth Bader Ginsberg’s seat on the Supreme Court.

If neither survives, gosh won’t we feel terrible!

 

 

The Morbid the Merrier

Posted in General on February 26th, 2017 by Eugene Finerman – 1 Comment

FMarloweebruary 26, 1564:  The Least Mysterious Thing About Christopher Marlowe

At least there is no debate as to when and where Christopher Marlowe was baptized.  It was in Conventry, England on this day in 1564, and the Anglican priest failed to observe the infant’s genius.  The date, nature, and cause of his death, however, are questions inciting civil wars in college English departments.

Did he really die in a brawl in 1593?  Was he a Catholic spy?  Was he murdered by the Crown?  Did he fake his death and live on to become the ghostwriter for William Shakespeare, Jane Austen and Winston Churchill?

According to the mere facts, the 29 year-old Marlowe got in a fight over a bar bill and rather imprudently tried deflecting a knife with his eye.  But that is too petty a death to be accepted!  (Occam’s razor was never meant to be a murder weapon.)  No, the Robert Mapplethorpe of Elizabethan Theater deserves some drama.  He had to be the victim of a conspiracy.  Here is a theory that combines creative jealousy with international intrigue:  Marlowe was murdered by Miguel Cervantes.  At the time, Cervantes was a middle-aged semi-invalid, but Marlowe wouldn’t have been that tough.

Here is another theory:  the English Secret Service killed him.  Since Marlowe was gay and went to Cambridge, he must have been a spy.  The question is for whom?  The sentimental among us would like to think that the Cambridge kids were spying for Russia even back then.  Marlowe actually could have known Boris Gudunov.   But what secrets did 16th century England possess that Russia coveted?  Maybe long division.  It is unlikely that Her Majesty’s Secret Service was particularly worried about Russian spies.  Khristov Marlovsky would not have been worth killing.

No, to be significant, Marlowe would need to be a spy for Spain or the Catholic Church.   So let’s start searching “Tamburlaine” or “Doctor Faustus” for any coded Papist messages.  “The face that launched a thousand ships” might really refer to Philip II and the Armada.  So, now he is incriminated.  But why would the Crown need to arrange his assassination. If the English government could publicly execute a Queen, Dukes, and Jesuits, what is the difficulty in hanging and drawing a flamboyant playwright?

But who is to say that Christopher Marlowe ever died?  Perhaps “Dr. Faustus” is actually the story of a writer and his literary agent.  (And I wish that I could get that deal.)

Prate Expectations

Posted in General on September 25th, 2016 by Eugene Finerman – Be the first to comment

white-witch it-stephen-king-movieThe two candidates entered.  Hillary Clinton wore a blue pants suit.  The particular shade would be debated for the next three days.  Azure sounds Arabic and was it yet another concession to Iran?  Mr. Trump wore an orange thong–or at least people hoped so.  The color matched his skin.  In any case, he did have a codpiece, a very generous one resembling the Presidential seal.

Moderator Lester Holt began with an explanation of the debate but Mr. Trump interrupted…

Mr. Trump:  Whatever, Les.  No one is interested in what you have to say…or you either, Crooked Hillary.  People wanna see just how beautifly  Presidential I am.

Mr. Holt:  Go ahead.

 

Mr. Trump:  Yesterday I was reading the New York Times and there is something about C.S. Lewis.  He and Dean Martin were just great.  Now I understand that he is a Narnian-American.  Great people, and when I am President, Narnia can count on me.

Mr. Holt:  Madame Secretary.

Ms. Clinton:  What does it matter?  I will be compared to the White Witch.  However, I must break the news that C.S. Lewis is dead.

Mr. Trump:  Another victim of Obamacare!

Mrs. Clinton:  No, he was gunned down by Wayne Lapierre.

Mr. Holt:  Mrs. Clinton, according to Wikipedia, you are wrong.

Ms. Clinton:  I was being ironic–and correctly using the term.

Mr. Trump:  I’d cut off her mike.  That’s what a real moderator would do.

Mr. Holt:  You will just have to wait until you are back home on Fox.  Mrs.  Clinton, how is your approach to Russia different than Mr. Trump’s?

Ms. Clinton:  First, there is the acknowledgement that the identity and role of Russia are adversarial to the West, a schism of 1200 years.  Even within the Russian culture, compare the perspectives of Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky…

Mr. Trump:  Booorrrringgggggg….

Ms. Clinton:  Dumbing it down for Donald, I don’t think of Russia and the U.S. as Batman and Robin– and we should never be Robin!

Mr. Trump:  I can deal with the Russians.  The gulags?  Just a little classy upgrades and they’d make beautiful Trump resorts.  But let me tell you about my friend and admirer Vladimir Putin.  We great men appreciate each other, and we can manage the world together–like Winston Churchill and George Washington.

Ms. Clinton:  Just don’t tell him that Tchaikovsky was gay.

Mr. Holt:  According to Wikipedia, that is correct.

Ms. Clinton:  Why don’t you fact-check the historical anachronism of Churchill and Washington?

Mr. Holt:  According to Wikipedia, you have correctly used the word anachronism.  However, you have raised a question of double-standards.  Of course, there are.  You may be on the same stage as Mr. Trump, but it is two different shows.  You are on “Jeopardy!” and he is on “Jackass”.

How The East Was Lost

Posted in General, On This Day on August 20th, 2016 by Eugene Finerman – Be the first to comment

Byzantine EagleOn this day in A.D. 636 (if you lost) or A.H. 15 (if you didn’t)

In the news reports from Iraq, if you still bother to pay attention, you would have heard of the Yarmouk Hospital. It is that dilapidated, pathetic locale for hapless Iraqi civilians to get some facsimile of healthcare. So, who was this namesake Yarmouk? An outstanding physician? A generous (or guilt-ridden) philanthropist?

In fact, Yarmouk was a battle. (So much for Iraqi charm. Wouldn’t you want to go to a hospital named for Iwo Jima?) Of course, Yarmuk was an Arab victory and–however obscure it may be to you–it was one of the most significant battles in history. But for Yarmouk, the Middle East might still be Christian.

Until 636, Islam was still confined to Arabia. The Caliph of the new religion had sent large raiding parties to plunder the infidel neighbors; and the affluent Byzantines certainly had lots worth stealing. In fact, given the lethargic Byzantine defenses, the Arabs burglarized the entire city of Damascus. That heist finally got Constantinople’s attention. (We’ll have to postpone this theological debate over whether or not the Christ child was born potty-trained.) The Emperor Heraclius ordered the army to stop the Arab incursions.

The approach of perhaps 80,000 Byzantines convinced the Arab expeditions to make a prudent exit from Syria. Having one third as many men, the Arab forces retreated as far south as the Yarmouk River valley, which forms the border of modern Syria and Jordan. There they took up defensive positions and awaited the Byzantine attack. And waited and waited and waited. The Byzantines had stopped on the other side of the valley, and began a three-month-long staring contest.

During that three months, the Byzantines made several attempts to negotiate. Considering the Imperial forces’ numerical superiority, the Arab Commander must have been impressed with the Byzantines’ generosity or stupidity. Had the situation been reversed, he would not have hesitated to attack. However, under the circumstances, he was willing to negotiate if only to stall for reinforcements. They arrived, but he still had half as many men as the Byzantines. So the staring contest continued until the Byzantines blinked.

They had no choice in the matter; they were downwind of a sandstorm. And they soon found themselves downwind and under the Arab cavalry. Taking advantage of Allah’s gift of weather, the Arabs attacked. At least half of the Byzantine army was annihilated, the survivors were in disorganized flight. Syria and Palestine were defenseless; the Arabs’ strategy was no longer smash and grab. They were there to stay, and they soon found that Egypt and North Africa were easy pickings as well.

So on this day in 636, Byzantine incompetence lost half of an empire, gave the Arabs the Middle East and left us with the consequences.