Your RDA of Irony

Dateline Washington, D.C.

Posted in General on October 15th, 2023 by Eugene Finerman – Be the first to comment

The Herbert Hoover Matrimonial Chapel

The Who’s Who of Prime Ministers

Posted in General on July 8th, 2022 by Eugene Finerman – 3 Comments

I. Who’s Who

My idea of casual conversation would include an allusion to Benjamin Disraeli. My acquaintance’s idea of a response was “Who?”  I hoped that I maintained a stoic mien but my eyebrows might have been doing the semaphores of  “Really?” The lady, a friend of a neighbor, is Gentile; so she would have been indifferent to the most interesting feature of Disraeli. I just provided her with a brief description of a “British prime minister of the 19th century and a man of extraordinary charm and wit.”

Now, I don’t want to seem like a pedantic bully  (even if I really am) but I think that a middle-aged college graduate should have heard of Benjamin Disraeli. He is not obscure. It is not as if I had belabored the poor woman with such prime ministerial ciphers as Henry Campbell-Bannerman or James Callahan. (And if I had mentioned Andrew Bonar Law, she might have slapped me.)

I realized that Americans’ criterion for historical significance is whether or not it was made into a movie. But Disraeli has been, and he has been portrayed by George Arliss, John Gielgud, Alec Guinness and Ian McShane. Given Disraeli’s origins, Ben Stiller or Seth Rogen may feel entitled to play him! No, that woman should have heard of Disraeli.

In fact, I think that a number of British prime ministers merit at least a minimum of recognition.

Robert Walpole (1721-1741): a $2,000 question on Jeopardy but he was the first prime minister.

Lord North (1770-1782): the idiot during the American Revolution.

William Pitt the Younger (1783-1801, 1804-1806) if only because Pittsburgh was named for his father.

Earl Grey (1830-1834): because he had such great taste in tea. Yes, really.

Benjamin Disraeli (1868, 1874-1880): he needs no introduction.

William Gladstone (1868-1874, 1880-1885, 1886, 1892-1894): Disraeli’s rival. If Disraeli was Groucho, Gladstone was Margaret Dumont.

David Lloyd George (1916-1922): in case you were wondering who was standing next to Woodrow Wilson at Versailles.

Neville Chamberlain (1937-1940): who is now remembered as an insult and an accusation.

Winston Churchill (1940-45, 1951-1955): the man George Bush claimed to be–give or take the eloquence.

Margaret Thatcher (1979-1990): Disraeli’s politics with Gladstone’s charm.

Tony Blair (1997-2007): if only to prove that you were not completely oblivious.

Boris Johnson…oh, maybe not.

States of Denial

Posted in General on April 25th, 2021 by Eugene Finerman – Be the first to comment

Turkey insists that if anything happened in 1915…

“For some reason, the Armenians decided enmasse to march into the Anatolian wastelands but in their impetuous whimsy forgot to bring any food. Now this occurred during World War I, so perhaps there was a shortage of updated Michelin guides (the French army would have been using them to rate the trenches at Verdun.) Those silly Armenians kept missing the Howard Johnsons and ended starving to death–except for the thousands who must have accidently shot or bayoneted themselves.”

For some reason, most people don’t believe the Turkish explanation. However, the Japanese do. Japan, too, has suffered from an unkind skepticism regarding “accidents” that may have happened in the topsy-turvy of the ’30s and ’40s. Apparently, millions of Chinese civilians died while the Japanese army was in the neighborhood. Given China’s large population, that may have been a statistical inevitability. There also could be a nutritional explanation. If in 1937 300,000 people in Nanking evidently chose to massacre and decapitate themselves, that might have been a reaction to all the monosodium glutamate in Chinese food. Yes, well, the Samurai Code evidently does not require credibility.

Fortunately, with my experience in the Chicago financial markets, I have a solution to Turkey’s and Japan’s bad reputations: Guilt Futures. Just pay, trade or coerce another country into taking the blame. It might not be historically valid, but we should let the marketplace determine who wants to be guilty. Sudan probably could use a little extra money to finance its ongoing genocide; an extra massacre or two on its resume would hardly be noticed. France might be willing to swap its Huguenot massacres or Nazi collaboration for more conveniently remote crimes. In the case of Nanking and the other atrocites, China and Japan could overcome history by finding a mutually agreeable scapegoat: Tibet.

Unfortunately for Turkey, it is not a rich country. The guilt future for the Armenian genocide should offer more than a few tons of figs. Of course, if the Turks offered unlimited use of their air space or passage through the Dardenelles, then there might be a willing culprit…

Today President Putin apologized for Russia’s massacre of the Armenians.

Lose a War, Lose Your Identity

Posted in General on August 12th, 2020 by Eugene Finerman – Be the first to comment

Starting on this day in 955, the Magyars resigned themselves to being called Hungarians. Lose a war, lose your identity.

A simple smash-and-grab invasion of Bavaria was ruined by the inconvenient arrival of the Emperor Otto and his army. Worse, Otto had a talent for strategy, placing his army on the Magyars’ line of retreat. German heavy cavalry versus Magyar light cavalry. If you would like to reenact the battle from the Magyars’ perspective, try mugging a tank.

The battle of Lechfeld is not celebrated in Budapest.

So, why were the Magyars renamed the Hungarians? That was what the Byzantines called them, thinking that the marauding Magyars were the descendants of the Huns. The Germans would certainly not dare question the Byzantines. (They were the Ivy Leaguers of the Middle Ages.) Besides, the Germans were becoming accustomed to erroneous names. After all, they never called themselves Germans. (Damn Romans.)

And the victorious Deutsch could have come up with worse names: “Paprika schwillt Vagabunden” (That translates to Paprika-swilling vagabonds.) However, that actually would have been more accurate. The Magyars were not related to the Huns. In fact, they were Turks–although the current nationalist government in Budapest isn’t embracing that heritage.

Ole Vey!

Posted in General on July 31st, 2020 by Eugene Finerman – Be the first to comment

Out of mischief or masochism, I wondered what the Catholic Encyclopedia had to say about Tomas de Torquemada. Would modern Catholic scholarship admit that Spain’s Grand Pyromaniac was a monster, claim to never have heard of him, or equivocate over the meaning and context of mass-murder? Take a wild guess!

The Catholica Encyclopedia concedes that Torquemada was somewhat controversial and, perhaps from a modern perspective, a tad cruel. However, the Encyclopedia quibbles over the number of his victims: it couldn’t be 20,000, probably not even 6,000, say 2,000 tops. Who would think that Catholic scholars would act like Jewish wholesalers? In fact, that was exactly what Torquemada feared. According to the Encyclopedia. he was trying to protect Spain from being “Judaized”.

Apparently, he burned the most infectious 2,000, 6,000 or 20,000 people and saved Spain from that dreadful fate. But what if he had failed? Just imagine a Judaized Spain.

In 1492, Columbus was commissioned by their Most Sephardic Majesties Fred and Bella to sail west to China, where he was to pick up two orders each of chicken cashew, mongolian beef, and hot & sour soup. Naturally, he was to bring back the receipt.

During the 16th century, the countries we now know as Ladino America are overrun by armies of peddlers. The Aztecs are persuaded to buy Popeil cutlery for their human sacrifices. In Cubala and the Rabbinican Republic, the most promising athletes are enslaved by sports agents.

Of course, Spanish art is equally transformed. El Greco’s Transfigurations now depict a 13 year-old becoming a man. The princesses painted by Velasquez will seem much more annoying. And no one will ever call himself Goya.

Literature will also reflect this Judaizing. Hemingway’s Death in the Afternoon will convey the pageantry, drama and danger of an all-you-can-eat brunch. The masterpiece of Spanish literature is Cervantes’ “Sancho Panza” the comic epic of a rotund schlep who hangs around a demented gentile for excitement.

Oh, and the Spanish Civil War was a lawsuit.

Byzantine Eugenics

Posted in General on July 26th, 2019 by Eugene Finerman – Be the first to comment

July 26, 811:  The Emperor Nicephorus Should Have Stuck to Accounting



Have you ever wondered why the Greeks don’t look like Colin Farrell, Val Kilmer or anyone else in the cast of “Alexander”?

Of course, you could say that Oliver Stone is a lunatic; and that would end the argument. However, if you further added that Macedonians are not Greeks, then I would venture this correction. In antiquity, Macedonians were the equivalent of redneck Greeks. They would have fewer teeth than Athenians, and would probably paste hardware decals on their chariots. Nonetheless, they would have been–barely (over Demosthenes’ battered body)–included in the Hellenic world.

Which brings us back to our original question: why do Greeks look like Armenians? (Come on: you can’t tell the difference, either.) The fact is that they are Armenian, the descendants of a massive relocation program undertaken by the Byzantine Emperor Nicephorus I.

By the ninth century, Greece was largely unpopulated. Five centuries of barbarian invasions were not great for demographics. Those Hellenes who had not been massacred or carried off into slavery huddled behind the walls of the few remaining cities. Yet across the Bosphorus, Anatolia was thriving. (Visigoths, Huns, Bulgars and Slavs evidently couldn’t swim.) Emperor Nicephorus (r. 802-811), who was a financier by training, decided to redistribute Anatolia’s surplus population to Greece. The Armenian provinces had people to spare, and the Imperial coercion was mitigated with the promise of free and rich lands.

Of course, there still was a problem with Bulgarian invasions, but the Emperor intended to take care of that. He certainly tried; today is the 1208th anniversary of Nicephorus’ death and defeat of his army. Mountain passes in Bulgaria can be tricky. Nicephorus was a much better accountant than general. He apparently also made an excellent goblet. The Bulgar Khan used Nicephorus’ skull as a drinking vessel.

Nonetheless, Nicephorus’ head had thought of a way to stabilize and revive Greece. It is just that Greeks no longer look like Greek Gods.

O Tempora, O Morass!

Posted in General on July 23rd, 2019 by Eugene Finerman – Be the first to comment

Derailed Train of Thoughts

Posted in General on July 22nd, 2019 by Eugene Finerman – Be the first to comment

Last Saturday, for lack of anyone more reputable, I led a class discussion on the Prophet Isaiah.

The selected passages were Isaiah, Chapter 22-23; but I digressed on the following tangents…

Louis XIV and his finance minister Nicolas Fouquet

The Phoenician colonization of North Africa and Spain

Genetic studies of the Philistines

Alexander the Great, and his campaign against Tyre

Rudyard Kipling’s poem “Recessional”


Isaiah may also have been mentioned.

But here are more details on Nicolas Fouquet.…/and-todays-special-guest-victim…/

May Dei

Posted in General on May 1st, 2019 by Eugene Finerman – Be the first to comment

Yes, it is the first of May.

Before you start romping around a ribboned pole or while you are recovering from a Walpurgis Night binge, let me tell you about May.  The month had to be named for something.  Of course, the only May you knew was that elderly friend of your grandmother, and you still shudder at the memory of May’s arm flaps–they could have been used as semaphores.

In fact, the Romans had her in mind when they named the third month of their calendar.  Maiores is the Latin word for senior; it is also the gnarled old root for our words mayor and major.  The month of Maius was originally dedicated to seniors.  Coming in contact with the Greeks (and Southern Italy was really western Hellas) the Romans became self-conscious about their crude, prosaic culture.  A month in honor of senior citizens?  No, the Romans wanted to be as refined as the people they were slaughtering.

It just so happened that the Greek pantheon had a minor celebrity named Maia.  She was the daughter of Atlas and had a fling with Zeus (who didn’t?) and that tryst resulted in Hermes.  To the Greeks, she was merely another cute nymph; but to the Romans, she was a homophonic gift.  The Romans now claimed that the month of Maius was named for her.  They promoted Maia to a Goddess of Spring (confiscating the attributes of their old Latin deity Bona Dea) and even arranged her marriage to their God Vulcan.  They weren’t even dating in Greek mythology.

Now the Romans were sophisticated, having dumped the generic  maiores for the glamorous Maia.  So May is the trophy wife of months.

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.