Your RDA of Irony

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.

Morose Poppins

Posted in General on December 19th, 2018 by Eugene Finerman – Be the first to comment


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 – Be the first to comment

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.

Paine-Taking Work

Posted in On This Day on April 5th, 2018 by Eugene Finerman – Be the first to comment

Since this day in 1710, this posting is protected–at least in Britain–by copyright. The Statute of Anne, named for someone whose reading was limited to brandy labels, established the first protection of a writer’s rights to his work.  Now Facebook might sell my name to brandy advertisers and Russian prostitutes named Anne, but Mark Zuckerberg cannot claim to have written this.

Unfortunately, the law did not protect Thomas Paine. “Common Sense” may have been a best seller, and at an exorbitant price of two shillings, but Paine was not seeing any money. Most of the sales were of bootlegged editions; and Paine had limited legal recourse. Nine of the colonies had no copyright laws. Four did,however, and their courts would have judged in his favor. However, he also would have been convicted of treason. At least, he could have afforded to custom order his gallows from Chippendale.

So thanks to the Statute of Anne, I–definitely and for the next 75 years or so–wrote this.