The Wailing Wall Street Journal

Posted in General on December 22nd, 2013 by Eugene Finerman – 1 Comment

December XXV, Annum I

New Management, New Image for LORD & Co.

How to Teach an Old Dogma New Tricks

JERUSALEM ”In a land this poor, it is not surprising that the Jews could not afford more than one God. Nor could the choosing people offer their deity the customary “perks” of divinity. Their generic God has to be invisible: it saves a fortune in marble. The Almighty can also forget about hosting theater, orgies and gladiator games. Here Heaven has a low overhead.

The question is can this religion be marketed? Gaius Phelonius of the Janus Theology Fund sees the potential. “Paganism is a headache. You have to sacrifice to all these Gods. You forget one, and you end up in a Greek tragedy. Now, if you had one all-purpose God, and a very cost-conscious one at that, think of what you’ll save in this world and the next.

“Monotheism can sell. Our focus groups show a decline in brand loyalty. People don’t see a real difference between Ceres and Isis. This is the biggest market erosion since the collapse of the Mother Earth cult. The public is ready for a change, and they are going to love this product. Think of it: a God with morals. A deity you can trust with your daughter.”

Phelonius did concede that monotheism had certain image problems. “All right, in terms of charisma, He’s no Apollo. That can be overcome. He’ll seem more likable if He has a wife and Son. The real challenge is to make Him less ethnic. Right now, he’s a little too East Coast. His idiosyncrasies about pork and foreskins won’t sell in Ephesus or Corinth. But it’s only a question of packaging.”

Savaging Mr. Banks

Posted in General on December 16th, 2013 by Eugene Finerman – 7 Comments

I imagine that the largest circle in modern Hell is filled with damned souls eternally clicking their remote controls in the desperate search for worthwhile television. Either they will never find anything or stumble upon the last two minutes of something actually good. My recent perdition was catching the very end of Mary Poppins.

Even by our jaded post-Walt Disney perspective and our exacting standards of computer animation, “Mary Poppins” is still quite charming. In fact, given the film’s popularity, I am surprised that there has never been a sequel. Much of the cast would still be available (although Dick van Dyke is older now than Arthur Treacher was in 1964).

Unfortunately, British history would be very uncooperative in the project. Here are the likely fates of the characters:

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 Tournament of the Decayed

Posted in General on December 3rd, 2013 by Eugene Finerman – 20 Comments

You have been waiting to know how I did in Jeopardy’s Fan Favorite Contest.  But Sony made me sign a terrifying contract, demanding my silence.  It is somewhat unnerving to read such recurring phrases “sue you for damages, if and when we feel like it” and “you don’t think that the Geneva Convention will protect you.”  The enclosed photos of Nanking, 1937 were probably gratuitous, especially with the question “Wish you were here?”  I definitely got the hint.

So you had to wait because I had to wait.  Today, however, Sony has freed me from my bondage of silence.  I can finally make the announcement!  Unfortunately, it is more of a whimper.  I did not win the contest.  Unless there is a miracle or a scandal, I will not be in the tournament.

You can’t  say that I didn’t try.  On the contrary, I threw myself in the campaign–a one-man repertory company.  I was center-stage, promoting myself and barraging you for votes.  During that one week, I lost sleep, gained weight and had a wonderful time.  I reveled in the theater of politics; I discovered my inner sociopath. While I certainly enjoyed the campaign, I am not quite so thrilled with the outcome.  Disappointed would be an understatement.  Surprised would be an euphemism.

But I want to thank you all for your support (except Leah Greenwald, but she had a decent excuse; and I was her second choice).

And please stick around; I may need you for the next tournament.

The Lion of the North

Posted in General on November 30th, 2013 by Eugene Finerman – Be the first to comment

November 30, 1700:  Peter the Great Almost Loses His Adjective

In 1700, Peter the Great, along with the kings of Denmark and Saxony, expected to take candy from a baby. But the baby almost killed them. The candy was actually Sweden and the baby was its teenage king. Today’s Sweden is the kind of country that would make a perfect suburb: placid but sophisticated. (Many of us fondly remember that Swedish films had nudity when Hollywood still apparently believed in storks.) But three centuries ago, Sweden was the bully of the Baltic. With the best army and navy in the North, the overachieving Swedes had won control of Norway, Finland, the Baltic States, and most of the area that would have been Poland’s and Germany’s coasts.

However, Sweden’s resentful neighbors saw their chance for vengeance and territory when a fifteen year-old ascended the throne in Stockholm in 1697. His youth was not the only perceived handicap of Charles XII; the young man was very strange. Some thought him “backward”; we might diagnose him as autistic. He never mastered the charm or the etiquette of the Court; he had no interest in the pleasures and vices that were his royal privilege. All Charles ever wanted to do was to play soldier; but, as it turned out, he was very good at it.

When, in February 1700, Russia, Denmark and Saxony declared war on Sweden and its callow king, the allies must have based their strategy on an accountant’s assessment. Their amassed armies far outnumbered Sweden’s forces; the Swedes would inevitably be overwhelmed. However, Charles did not wait for the inevitable. He attacked. Denmark’s proximity was its misfortune; by the summer of 1700 an overrun, devastated Denmark was suing for peace and ceding more territory to Sweden. In fact, Denmark was lucky that Charles acceded to a peace treaty. He didn’t like treaties because they required him to stop fighting. At least, Charles found solace in that he still had a war with Russia and Saxony.

A Russian army threatened to wrest Estonia and Latvia from Sweden. Peter the Great commanded an impressive number–40,000 men–but the invasion had accomplished little more than trespassing. Cannons and muskets require aiming, but no one had provided the Russian horde with adequate training. Furthermore, many of the Russian soldiers did not even have muskets; they were armed with clubs, axes and halberds, weapons only fairly effective in the 15th century. (But Peter’s officers had the latest fashions in uniforms.) Charles felt that 10,000 of his highly trained soldiers could handle the Russian horde, and he proved it this day–November 30– at the battle of Narva in 1700.

With half of his force dead or captured and the rest scattered, his country at the mercy of an unscathed Swedish army, Peter was prepared for any demand and every humiliation; but he still was amazed by Charles. The Swedish king simply marched away to begin an invasion of Saxony. This was not an act of mercy or generosity but contempt. Charles thought so little of Russia that he snubbed it; he wanted his enemies to have some fight in them. So Russia could recuperate before Charles would demolish it again.

Peter certainly had underestimated the young Swedish king; but now Charles underestimated the Tsar. Having seen–and barely surviving–a highly trained army, Peter proved an apt student. Over the next few years, while Charles was rampaging through central Europe, Peter rebuilt the Russian army along the model of its Swedish nemesis. If Ikea had a military catalog, Peter would have bought out the store. By 1703, the Russian army was ready for a rematch, and this time it successfully invaded the Baltic States. On newly acquired territory along the gulf of Finland, the Tsar ordered the construction of a fortress-with room for expansion–named St. Petersburg.

Yet Charles ignored the reviving Russian menace. He was preoccupied with a relatively unimportant but endless campaign in Saxony and Poland. Did it really matter who would be the next figurehead king of a powerless Poland? Inexplicably, it did to Charles. By 1708, however, he finally turned his attention to Russia; and this time he was going to oust Peter. To do so, Charles would lead his army into the heartland of Russia, through the Ukraine and on to Moscow. At least, that was the plan. His over-extended, precarious supply lines might have seemed an obstacle, but Charles expected to be feted, supplied, and reinforced by the Ukrainians and Cossacks. They were known to hate the Russians, so wouldn’t they regard Charles as their liberator? If so, their gratitude did not extend to fighting along side the Swedes.

Of course, Charles stayed on the attack. What did it matter if the Russian army at Poltava was three times the size of his force? Vell–as they might say in Swedish, eight years of training did make a substantial difference in the Tsar’s army. Most of Charles’ army was either killed or captured. Now, if Charles wouldn’t end a war when he was winning, imagine how he felt when he was losing. Riding south, he avoided capture and managed to get to the Ottoman Empire. There, the celebrity refugee convinced the Turks to declare war on Russia.

Peter welcomed this additional war as a chance to advance Russia’s southern frontiers to the Black Sea. He was so eager that he repeated the same mistakes that Charles had made at Poltava. Now, it was a Russian army deep in enemy territory, with its supplies cut off, and badly outnumbered. There was one difference, however, in Peter’s disastrous loss at Pruth in 1711. He, along with his entire army, was captured. The Turks were in a position to exact any terms that they wanted; and their ally Charles was insisting on the restoration on everything he had lost. However, after two years of Charles, the Turks realized that they did not like him, either. All they asked of the captured Tsar was that he return any territory that the Russians had previously won from the Turks…and that Charles must be allowed safe passage through Russia back to Sweden. Yes, the Turks were that eager to get rid of him. In fact, they placed him under house arrest until he got the message.

When back in Sweden, Charles simply scrounged whatever he could to continue the war. He was oblivious to the fact that the war was irretrievably lost, and that his strickened country had neither the manpower nor the resources left to accommodate his bloody hobby. Of course, Charles would not be content until he was killed in battle; in 1718, in a pointless siege of a Norwegian town, someone finally obliged him. The marksman is unknown; it might even have been an exhausted Swede.

History has had a number of great yet self-destructive generals. Charles XII is unique among them in that he is so colorless. Perhaps that is the consequence of being Swedish.   History remembers him as “The Lion of the North” but he could have been an idiot savant whose savoir happened to be war.

Today’s Most Interesting Headline

Posted in General on November 8th, 2013 by Eugene Finerman – Be the first to comment

No Poison Found in Legendary Poet’s Remains

That is such an intriguing headline.  But isn’t Rod McKuen still alive?  And why would anyone want to kill him?  Is Hallmark still stuck with a long-term contract?

What other poets had enemies?  Was Robert Browning hoping to bump off Elizabeth so he could marry Queen Victoria?  Probably not, but I just sold the script to the History Channel.

What about Heinrich Heine?  In the 19th century, the customary treatment for syphilis was mercury.  So, if there was no poison in his system, Heine was the victim of medical malpractice.

Would anyone poison Lord Byron?  I think that we could narrow the list of suspects down to cuckolded husbands, betrayed mistresses, the cricket teams at Cambridge, and everyone else in Europe.  However, the headline was not about him!

Pablo Neruda’s death coincided with the overthrow of the Allende government.  Most of the deaths at that time in Chile were not coincidences if you happened to support Allende.  Neruda must have been a lucky exception.


My Latest Contribution to Western Literature

Posted in General on November 3rd, 2013 by Eugene Finerman – 3 Comments

In my latest column in BOSS Magazine, I explain how Normandy’s William the Bastard improved his nickname and the sound of English.

pgs. 30-33.  Yes, there is a mistake on the last page. Proofreaders should edit words but not centuries.

Downton Abyss

Posted in General on October 31st, 2013 by Eugene Finerman – 4 Comments



Carson entered the drawing room with the embarrassing news, “My Lord and Ladies, I am afraid that Enrico Caruso is dead in Lady Mary’s bed.”

“Not another!” complained the Earl.

“Really, Robert,  it is just a hobby and only once a month” consoled Lady Cora.

“And Mr. Caruso would make quite a trophy” added the Dowager Countess.

“Oh, it is quite a collection now.  Theodore Roosevelt, two years ago.  Last year, Amedeo Modigliani.  The Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife, seven years ago.  I have to wonder if blaming Serbia was really such a clever idea.”

Lady Cora nodded, “It was extra work for the chauffeur.”

But the Dowager dismissed the doubts.  “I imagine that Mr. Caruso and the others all died much happier than the thousands of grouse you’ve killed.”

The Earl was not yet placated.  “But all these macabre deaths might distress the servants.”

“Not at all, your lordship” assured Carson, “An extra orange at Christmas should suffice.”

“Thank you, Carson” smiled the Earl, “but still this behavior of our daughter…”

“Daughter?” wondered Lady Cora.  “Why would you think that?”

“A young woman here, unbearably arrogant.  Of course, she is our daughter.”

“Family, yes” corrected his mother.  She knew this conversation was long overdue.  “But when do you recall meeting Mary?”

“Well, I was never one to pry in other people’s lives.  Perhaps it was at her debut, ten years ago?”

“No, it was closer to 45 years ago, at my grandmother’s funeral.  I introduced you to a lady who I said was my grandmother’s great-aunt.  Of course, I was lying.”

“Obviously” laughed the Earl.  “The woman would have been 150 years old.”

His mother agreed. “Yes, Lady Mary hasn’t been 150 years old since the 13th century.  When Downton Abbey was an abbey.  Don’t you recall the legend of a demonic abbess?”

“Is Lady Mary a vampyre?” wondered the Earl.

“A vampyre?  Somebody went to Cambridge.    Carson, tell us: did any of the corpses have bites on their neck?”

“Not on the neck, your ladyship.”

“Quite right.  Lady Mary is a succubus, which is as sordid as it sounds.”

“Cora, you knew a medieval monster was living under our roof?”

“Mary has always been gracious to me.  She even offered me the corpses to make matzoh.”

“Shouldn’t someone warn Mary’s husband?  Isn’t Matthew in danger?”

“Really, Robert.  Matthew is an Englishman.  Whether Mary is a patriot or a gourmet, she is not interested.”

“So, we will do nothing, mother?”

‘It has been our tradition for 800 years.”

 Lady Mary

Next week, Mary hires a new lady’s maid:  Wallis Simpson.

Stop the Presses

Posted in General on October 29th, 2013 by Eugene Finerman – 1 Comment

Lisa Kudrow Talks “Life-Altering” Nose Job: I Was “Hideous” Before



Well, here’s something you don’t hear every day: A celebrity admitting to plastic surgery!

Lisa Kudrow recently revealed that she got a nose job at age 16.

A teenage Jewish girl gets a nose job…Seismographs indicate major earthquakes on Manhattan’s Upper West Side from all the jaws dropping.  There is also an emergency meeting of the Pulitzer Committee to create a special award for this unprecedented revelation.

No doubt this will lead to further discoveries in Semitic Anthropology:  “Barbra Streisand Has Eaten Pastrami” and “Larry King Reads in the Bathroom.”

Ms. Kudrow’s former nose is currently located in Switzerland, where the outside is a ski run and the inside is the site of the Hadron Particle Collider.


My Thanks

Posted in General on October 26th, 2013 by Eugene Finerman – 5 Comments

Ossian_Receiving_the_Ghosts_of_French_Heroes_-_WGA09512 Here I am thanking my heroic volunteers who campaigned for me in the Tournament of the Decayed.  Without your creativity and energy, I would have been some garrulous old man with an audience limited to me.  Let me begin my thanks.

First, you had no idea that Karen could be so annoying–all those emails telling you to vote for me.  But how could you refuse her?  People who never met me ended up pledging their lives, fortunes and sacred honor to resurrect me on Jeopardy.

Just think of those delightful posters (alias memes, so I am told).  Let me introduce my talented mentor Nadine Eastwood;  she gave me two dimensions—and in color.  I am probably just a figment of her imagination.

Then I had the support of Heaven or at least my synagogue.  Yes, the people who would not trust me to write a Purim skit based on Jane Austen (“Tribe and Prejudice”) still showed touching support in this campaign.  “I had no idea that you were intelligent” as so many of them said; I had to explain the difference between an idiot and a lunatic.  Special thanks to our wonderful Cantor Vicky Glick.  She always knew I was a lunatic.

Did you know that I have supporters under the age of 40?  No, I am not counting pugs.  (Jeopardy didn’t either, alas).  Any semblance to a landslide at Highland Park High School is due to the drive and enthusiasm of Dahlia Cohen–who is now entitled to a free history term paper.

My campaign even received publicity on television. My impresario is Michael Hastings.  I am always on stage; he realized that I needed some cameras.  Thank you, Michael.  True, the camera showed my bald spot; but I am still gorgeous by Jeopardy standards.

Would you like me to list the hundreds of old friends who encouraged me?  Mike and Sue from grade school…Doreen from an old job…. Eric, Merritt and Cat from Jeopardy…Really, I am tempted to start a cult.

Now, am I forgetting anything?  Oh, yes, the election outcome.  Sony will not let me tell you–at least until December.  However, I can divulge the voting procedure…

Once again, thank you!




St. Corporate Day

Posted in General on October 25th, 2013 by Eugene Finerman – 1 Comment

October 25, 1415:  The Battle of Agincourt

On this day in 1415, a beleaguered CEO offered these team-building thoughts to his “stakeholders”:

We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he today that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother …

Stirred by such speech, you too might well overlook the fact that your newfound brother makes 300 times more than you, and that he is the buffoon who put you in such a desperate plight.

In fact, the battle of Agincourt was decided by French incompetence, not English poetry. Outnumbering the English by approximately five-to-one, the French could have used any number of tactics to win the campaign: flanking, envelopment, siege….There was only one possible way that the French could have lost the battle of Agincourt. That would be a full-frontal cavalry assault in constricted terrain, leading to an impassable traffic jam of horses and easy shooting for English archers.

Of course, who would be that stupid? Oh, oui.

However, I will concede that Henry V could not have made that glorious St. Crispin’s Day speech.  First, it would have been in Middle English–which no one ever understood.  Furthermore, the speech–in that form–would never have survived the departmental approval procedure.  Before delivering the St. Crispin’s speech, Henry–or his speechwriter–was required to submit a draft to the legal department and human resources.

In 1415, that editorial inquisition was in the hands of Lord Chancellor Beaufort and the King’s brother, the Duke of Bedford.

Beaufort:  “We few, we happy few…”  Too many pronouns, too many adjectives.  “We” is too vague a term, too easy to misintepret.  A positive and specific identification is necessary, if only to avoid trademark disputes in future treaties. “Few” has a negative context, as if the English army were conceding an inadequate number for this campaign.  If Henry survives the battle, he would never survive the litigation.  Come up with a more positive description of our army’s size.

Bedford:  And “Happy”?  Really, that is unprofessional and inappropriate to a war.  If we must have an adjective, let’s make it a serious one.   And “band of brothers?”  I am the king’s brother and I have no idea what that means.  Is he promising everyone can be a duke like me?

Beaufort:  Carried away by alliteration, completely irresponsible.   There has to be a concise and practical definition of the relationship between the king and his soldiers.

Bedford:  “For he today that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother …”

Is he criticizing our healthcare policy?  We certainly do cover wounds–at least battle-related ones–and the men will receive appropriate bandages rather than this unsolicited affection.  You know, that could actually be viewed as a form of harassment….

So, on October 25, 1415,  Henry V assured his beleaguered men:

“This adequately numbered English army, this proactive English army

This armed association

For anyone who, in this specific time period, should acquire a work-related decoagulating condition

Would be entitled to appropriate coverage from this association.”

And if Henry said anything more, no one was listening.