Reading Between the Lines

Posted in General on April 3rd, 2014 by Eugene Finerman – 2 Comments

This month the postman has the added onus of delivering rejection letters from colleges. It is the one time of year when it is more dangerous to be a mailman in Newton, Massachusetts than Kandahar, Afghanistan. All the rejection letters will have a funereal politeness…”We truly regret the opportunity to include a superb student like you in the very, very, small class of 2018….”

But what they really are saying…


There are only so many stars in the heavens and Gods in the pantheon, but you will not be one of them. Someone has to be inferior, and you do have the consolation of being in the vast majority. Of course, now you can apply to Yale or Stanford. However, we will be sending those schools our rejection list, letting them know that they are your second choice.


Even if the economy were better and our governor less of a sociopath, we still would have rejected you. But we are really sorry that this letter came postage due.


Prima facie, you are rejected. And if you don’t know what prima facie means, quod erat demonstrandum.


Whoa dude, do you know what it takes to get rejected by us? Probably from doing what you were planning to do here. So, it’s like you already graduated.


Congratulations! You are a runner-up on our admissions list! Your prize includes avoiding all those annoying references to Ann-Margret and Charlton Heston! And good luck as you advance to the state university competitions!


Your scholastization vectors undercede our operational parameters. Artillerily, you missed.


You didn’t have to open this envelope, you didn’t have to read this letter, you knew the cruel, overwhelming odds against you, and yet something in your blood damned and defied the odds and the grade point averages and the massed muskets on Seminary Ridge, and with quickening pulse you open the envelope and are reading this letter, and knowing you’ve lost, be proud that you dared.


Please ignore the plum sauce stains on this letter. Between translating Frederich von Hayek into Klingon, and writing rejection letters, I have to eat at my desk. If it is any solace, these moo shu pancakes are really good.

The Real Game

Posted in General on March 1st, 2014 by Eugene Finerman – 2 Comments

Today, Vladmir Putin named Arthur Chu as a reason for invading Ukraine…

Quite a few people have asked my opinion of an aggressive young man who is the current champion of Jeopardy. Are his tactics destroying the show’s genteel academic atmosphere? Certainly not, because that Ivory Tower was destroyed ten years ago when Jeopardy eliminated the five game limit for contestants. Until then, Jeopardy was only a dilettante’s adventure; now it can become a cyborg’s career.

Somehow I think that Jeopardy may yet survive Arthur Chu. In fact, his run is likely over, although his inevitable loss has yet to be broadcast.

I am more intrigued by how this overblown outrage began–when Mr. Chu had only appeared on four televised games. My impression is that it started in the British Press. American quiz shows don’t seem the usual fare for London tabloids. Believe it or not, I was never asked to pose topless on “Page Three.”

But perhaps an underemployed but aggressive actor had a tenuous connection in the British media who planted the story. Perhaps with all the stoked publicity, the underemployed actor hopes to turn a winning streak into a career.

February 13th: Promiscuity for Dummies

Posted in General, On This Day on February 13th, 2014 by Eugene Finerman – 2 Comments

If Miley Cyrus considers marrying Warren Buffett, she should ponder the fate of Catherine Howard. On this day in 1542, Miss Howard–the all-too-nominal Mrs. Tudor–made history and the coroner’s report. The young lady had ignored the risks of adultery when married to Henry VIII. It was an act of treason and the punishment was a fatal form of divorce. Henry had gotten rid of Anne Boleyn that way. She actually had been innocent, but English Law did not permit divorce on the grounds that Boleyn was an annoying bitch. (She definitely was guilty of that). However, six men–including Anne’s own brother–were tortured into confessions of all sorts of orgies with Anne as the center attraction. That “evidence” convicted Anne Boleyn; of course, her lovers had to be killed as well. The Tower of London and executioners had a great year in 1536.

In the case of Catherine Howard, she really was guilty. Gee, how could a teenage girl want anyone other than a gross, gout-ridden syphilitic 50 year-old? Nevertheless, she should have been especially wary of the risks of being Mrs. Tudor; the late Anne Boleyn was her first cousin. Howard and her handsome young lover were caught, tried and executed. In an act of vicious pettiness, the Crown also executed two men who had “dated” Catherine before her marriage.

If Catherine Howard wanted a role model, a good choice would have been Mary Boleyn. The older sister of Anne had been the mistress of both Francis I and Henry VIII and, aside from the syphilis, was no worse for the experiences. Mary understood the requirements of being a royal mistress: say yes, look grateful, and know your place. A king’s mistress is entitled to certain perks: jewelry, cushy jobs for her parasitic family and, if she should add to the family tree, a title of nobility for the royal bastard. But the prudent mistress does not make demands on the King and certainly would not cheat on him.

A prudent mistress is also a good loser. When Henry tired of Mary Boleyn, he followed etiquette and arranged a good marriage for her. She outlived her ambitious sister and reckless cousin. Furthermore, Mary, as Lady Carey, produced her own dynasty, and some of her descendants distinguished themselves among the fox-hunting classes. A great-great-great-etc. grandson named Winston had talent as a writer–among other things. And one of Mary’s living descendants is named for Anne Boleyn’s daughter and has the very same job.

Live (at least the ransom note says so) From Sochi

Posted in General on February 7th, 2014 by Eugene Finerman – 1 Comment

Bob: Hello, I know that you can’t see us but this is Bob Costas, with Matt Lauer, here for the opening ceremonies of the 22nd Winter Olympics. We hope to have electricity some time tonight. Apparently, we didn’t bribe the right people. In the meantime, Matt and I will be sharing this flashlight.

Matt: Thank you, Bob. Did you know that Russia is the largest country in the world?

: Yes, I finished fourth grade. Would you also like to make an inane remark that Sochi sounds like the name of a Japanese restaurant?

Matt: You noticed that, too. And also, don’t you think that the Black Sea should be in Africa instead of here, and the Red Sea should be here?

Bob: Actually, I am not sure that anyone should be here. In theory, forty-four nations will be participating in the Opening Ceremonies. Most of the delegations, however, are afraid to leave their hotels. Yes, they risk cholera but it is nothing compared to what waits them on the streets here. The teams will still be represented, however, as they currently are being arrested.

: Among the arrested notables is our own Billie Jean King. She is charged with being a gay terrorist.

Bob: Was she whistling “The 1812 Overture” with sarcastic intent?

Matt: Did you know that Tschaikovsky wrote that music as a wedding gift for James and Dolley Madison?

Bob: Yes, the image of a few hundred Canadians and Americans shooting at each other across Niagara Falls certainly impressed the Russians. Tolstoy wrote about it, too. Matt, hand me your notes. Okay, “The Brothers Karamazov” and “The Three Sisters” are not the Russian equivalent of “The Brady Bunch.” Sputnik is not the Russian word for potato–and I have warned you about stiffing your staff on Christmas bonuses. Underpaid Ivy Leaguers are dangerous.

Matt: They get free tee-shirts from the network’s cancelled shows. I save those snotty brats a fortune in underwear.

Bob: Now it is time for the Olympic torch. This will be memorable as the Russians are setting afire the uncompleted part of the stadium. At least, we finally will have some light.

Matt: Our audience now can share the spectacle with us.

Bob: No, Matt, I was looking for the exit.

Eugene’s Inferno

Posted in General on January 28th, 2014 by Eugene Finerman – 3 Comments

Dangerous Cold in Chicago

According to Dante, Hell frequently freezes over.  He imagined much of Hell to be cold.  Of course, a Florentine’s vision of a glacial perdition would be any Midwesterner’s idea of a brisk November.

When reading L’Inferno I remember thinking “I could come up with better eternal torments than that. ”  Dante’s notions would not qualify him an intern in Human Resources.  Let’s tour the Adultery Section:  Circle Two.  Tempestous lovers are trapped forever in a whirlwind.  It is a good metaphor but not much of a punishment.  No, their extra-curricular activities should be videotaped and eternally shown on late night cable television, to the standard accompaniment of appallingly bad jazz.  The embarrassment would be much worse than windburn.

(Don’t quibble that a 14th century Italian couldn’t have envisioned television and video recorders.  Dante concocted an entire cosmological system.  And if Dante needed a little tech advice, he could have asked Marco Polo what the Chinese and Japanese were working on.).

Let’s drop by another sin: gluttony.  According to Dante’s itinerary, in the Third Circle those who have succumbed to their debauched appetites lie in the garbage and waste they created.  However, I think that describes the typical college dorm room.  That may be Dante’s idea of Hell, but for most of us it was one of the happiest times of our lives.  No, the appropriate eternal punishment for gluttons would be to look at themselves in bathing suits and realize why they’re not in the Second Circle of Hell.

I really don’t have the time to worsen all of Hell, but I’d like to do one more neighborhood.  In the First Circle are those souls who had every virtue but the right religion.  The virtuous pagans (and according to Dante, that includes chivalrous Moslems) are only tortured by the thought of their inferiority.  Now, in my Hell I would really rub in Christian perfection.  Everyone in the First Circle would be reincarnated as Jerry and Millie Helper, living next door to Rob and Laura Petrie.

What is Spanish for Chutzpah?

Posted in General on January 22nd, 2014 by Eugene Finerman – 3 Comments

In 1836, Mexico’s failure to enforce a Spanish requirement on its immigrants made it difficult to explain to the Alamo garrison that it was about to be massacred.  A 3000 man army with cannons offered a hint, but the Texans might have missed the subtlety.  So the Mexican army band serenaded the garrison with “The Cut Throat Song”–a musical message to expect no mercy.

Here is the number:

The Texans probably assumed that they would be bored to death.

Some 120 years later, a John Wayne movie wanted to use “The Cut Throat Song” in its soundtrack.  But the composer Dmitri Tiomkin knew that he could do better.  In a way, he did…

Of course, Santa Anna did not have the foresight to include a full orchestra in his army.  And he would have had to melt down some cannons to increase the brass section.  There is also some question as to how the Texans would have reacted to Tiomkin’s lush, seductive music.  Probably panic…They were ready to die for Texas…but not same-sex dating!

Second Thoughts on the Second Reich

Posted in General on January 11th, 2014 by Eugene Finerman – 1 Comment

“Germany is ‘not alone to blame’ for the outbreak of the First World War quote from Die Welt


Yes, for too long we have ignored Belgium’s aggression.

Germany did not have a monopoly on belligerence, myopia and stupidity; but it probably was the majority stockholder.

And the blame largely rests on one particular German.

Kaiser Wilhelm II could have been worse. (Consider the German voters’ subsequent taste in chancellors.) Nevertheless, the Kaiser was a bellicose, bellowing moron.  It takes an uniquely repellent person to inspire a military alliance between Tsarist Russia and Republican France. Britain and Prussia had enjoyed two centuries of excellent relations; then Kaiser Bill opened his mouth, supporting the Boers, announcing his intention to have the World’s powerful navy, and just being his dangerously insufferable self.   Two centuries of amity–and one century of anti-Russian policy ended–and reversed.

Dramatists can be great historians–providing an eloquence that the actual historical figures usually lacked. The British production “The Fall of Eagles” depicts the last days of Imperial Germany; as his Empire collapses, the Kaiser is complaining that he never wanted this war. Hearing of the Imperial tantrum, Hindenburg agrees. “It is true. The Kaiser never wanted a war. He only wanted a victory.”

New Year’s Resolutions

Posted in General on December 31st, 2013 by Eugene Finerman – 1 Comment

I promise to always wear a helmet when I am riding with Hell’s Angels.

When encountering someone named Justin, I will try to refrain from a lecture on the Byzantine Empire. (This resolution also applies to anyone named Zoe, Theodora and Nicephorus.)

I will try not to scream at the television whenever I see Lena Dunham nude. Although most winners of the Congressional Medal of Honor would be just as horrified.

That is about it. Otherwise, I really am quite content with my stagnant quo and I hope that we will continue our sado-masochistic (but intelligible) relationship in 2014.

Happy New Year!

Boxing Day

Posted in General on December 26th, 2013 by Eugene Finerman – Be the first to comment

This day celebrates the invention of production placement when Arena Sports Productions gave the infant Jesus a pair of authentic Spartacus boxing gloves.  There were tentative plans to arrange a fight between Jesus and the future emperor Claudius.  However, some doubted whether the palsied, stammering Roman would be a fit match for a carpentry major at Nazareth Community College.  It was hoped that Jesus would cure Claudius before beating him up.

As you know, however, that fight never happened.  The first real Boxing Day bout occurred between St. Stephen the King of Hungary and St. Stephen the Very Tactless over whose feast day this was.  Since this was prior to the Marquess of Queensbury rules, Tactless Steve and Paprika Breath fought it out with poison tipped crosiers.     (Fight available on pay-per-view.)  And it was a split decision.

(So, do I have a career with Wikipedia?)

The Nativity

Posted in General on December 25th, 2013 by Eugene Finerman – Be the first to comment

Now showing at Mangers everywhere. Check your local listings.

Here’s what the critics have to say.

A Pre-Proustian Bildungsroman”: The New York Times

Obama’s socialized medicine wouldn’t permit Virgin Birth”: The Wall Street Journal

At least Ben Stiller isn’t in it.“: Eugene


p.s.  Let’s not forget today’s historical significance: