Saturday, March 31, 2018

Rabbit Redux, or Shelling Points

(originally posted on 3/30/2013)

Christianity-wise, Easter is a much more important holiday than Christmas. After all, Easter celebrates the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Neat trick if you can pull it off. Christmas, on the other hand, merely celebrates Jesus' birth. Anybody can be born. Just look at David Hasselhoff. He was born, wasn't he? So was Paula Abdul. And Scott Baio, Vanna White, Prince Charles, Kitty Kelley, Peirs Morgan, Michelle Bachmann, Harry Reid, Florence Henderson, and the guy who played Mini-Me in the Austin Powers movies.

For that matter, I was born. Trust me, folks, it's doable.

So, if it's a less important occasion, why does Christmas seem bigger? Nobody wants to admit this, but it's because the secularists got into the act. They took a solemn holiday and made it fun. More important, as far as the merchants are concerned, they made it profitable. So profitable with all those Christmas sales, blaring songs, horrendous crowds, and blinding tinsel, they've made all the non-mercantile secularists among us wonder if we shouldn't give solemnity another chance.

Easter, then, is another chance for solem-z-z-z-z-z-z-z-z-z-z-z-z-z-z-z-z...

Even if Easter is second-rate as far as secular holidays go, it's not for lack of trying on the part of the mover and shakers of popular culture, who've kept up the potentially profitable fight all these years. Some examples:

Actually, I think Easter would be the safest time of year for vegetables (assuming vegetables can think, as the above illustration implies.) I mean, it's not like you're going to find rutabagas in your basket. And who dyes onions?

(Incidentally, since the above computer-animated series features anthropomorphic vegetables, what happens when one goes into a coma? It's a bit a redundant to say they're in a vegetative state, isn't it?)

I wonder if she delivers the Un-eggs.

Soft boiled humor.

I hope they don't accidentally drink the dye and beer the eggs. (You may think that's bad grammar, but those folks are Dutch; they may not even notice.)

Easter cheesecake.

I wonder if these are also good for a sore throat.

A nice, cozy, romantic getaway.

Easter before cell phones.

Easter eggs that snap, crackle, and pop.

 He has to get to work somehow, doesn't he?

"...with liberty and jelly beans for all."

That's one creepy-looking Easter Bunny.

" will be a blue Easter without you..."

" singular sensation..."

They celebrate Easter in France, too.

So, is it working? Have we made the holiday secular enough?

Still no Christmas, but close...very, very close.

Have a happy and safe Easter, whatever your belief system may be.



Monday, March 26, 2018

This Day in History

Meet Elbridge Gerry (hard G, like "gum" or "gap" or "goulash"), the 5th Vice-president of the United States (under James Madison), but it's not that line of work that interests us today. 

Gerry was also one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, but, again, we're not interested in that, either. So what exactly does interest us about him?

Well, there's the political party he belonged to, the Democratic-Republicans. Founded by Thomas Jefferson and the aforementioned James Madison in 1792 to oppose the policies of a group of politicians (most notably, current Broadway star Alexander Hamilton), it was very rarely referred to as the Democratic-Republican Party by Jefferson, Madison, or anyone else around back then. As far as they were concerned it was simply the Republican Party. So why is it that if you pick up a history book today and look at the list of presidents sandwiched between John Adams and Andrew Jackson, it has that hyphenated title ascribed to them?

So as not to confuse it with that OTHER Republican Party, the one that came along in the middle of the 19th century.

Back to (hard G--gum, gap, goulash) Gerry. In 1810, after several failed attempts, the Democratic-Republican Gerry was elected Governor of the state (or, as people living there like to call it, commonwealth) of Massachusetts, and then re-elected two years later. So, was he a good governor or a bad governor? More to the point, is he someone you--yes, I'm talking to you--would have voted for? It's hard to say, as the Right-Left political spectrum that so dominates politics these days was more like a pretzel back then (the liberal Democratic-Republicans believed in small government and even smaller business, whereas the conservative Federalists believed in big government and even bigger business. Donald "Art of the Deal" Trump probably would have been a Federalist, which means he would never have made it to the White House as what passed for "red states" back then all voted Dem-Rep. See how confusing it gets?) Actually, during his first term, Gerry governed from the center. He had to, as the Massachusetts legislature was controlled by the Federalists. That all changed in the election of 1812, when, for whatever reason, the Feds were kicked out. With his own party now in control of both the executive and the legislative branches, Gerry felt free to move to the Left. Um, no, that's not right, because he would have believed in small government. So he moved to the Right. No, that's not right, either, because the capitalists back then all wanted government as big as possible. So Gerry would have had to ...Well, Gerry moved somewhere. Let's leave it at that.

One of the first orders of business for the new Democratic-Republican-dominated legislature had to do with the 1810 census. According to the U.S. Constitution "Representatives and direct Taxes shall be apportioned among the several States, which may be included within this Union, according to their respective Numbers."  Once a State knows many people are living between its borders, it's up to legislature to decide how the various electoral districts will be drawn. Not painted, not sculpted, but drawn. Very simple. Except it must not have seemed all that simple to the Massachusetts legislature.

It could have been simple. For example, when figuring out how the state senatorial districts should be drawn up, they could have just taken a map of Massachusetts and rendered a tic-tac-toe-like grid across the state. Whatever box voters fell in, voters fell in. Except it seems these voters weren't  falling in the boxes that the Democratic-Republican-dominated legislature wanted them to fall in. In other words, too many of these boxes would have been evenly divided between Dem-Rep voter and Federalist voters,  meaning the next election might be anything but a landslide in the Dem-Reps favor. So it was back to the drawing board, as the legislature tried thinking outside the box.

For instance, why have a straight line...

...when you can have a curve?

In fact, the more curves the better.

By the time the legislature was done drawing up the electoral map, the average state district look like something out of a Rorschach ink blot test, but the Democratic-Republicans now had a better chance winning the next election. To his credit, Governor Gerry expressed doubts about the new map. To his discredit, he signed it into law anyway, thus assuring a kind of immortality he may have not wanted, for the Dem-Fed scheme did not go unnoticed.

On March, 26, 1814, the following cartoon appeared in the Boston Gazette:

It's a drawing of one of those new state senatorial districts (albeit with eyes, fangs, tongue, wing, and claws added.) Now, lets look at the name of that new species of monster. The Gerry part is easy enough to understand (you sign it, you own it), but what with this "Mander"?

A salamander. No wings, but there's a certain resemblance nonetheless.

The creature's name stuck, though with time the hyphen was dropped, so it was now called a gerrymander. Actually, it became a verb (though a noun if you add an -ing to the end.) I don't know how and why, but it also came to be pronounced differently, so today it's gerrymander with a soft G (gym, genuine, gingerbread.)

Over the years, all of the major political parties have been guilty of gerrymandering (including parties that have come and gone, like the Whigs.) And each time the party out of power screams foul (all the while looking to get back in power so they get a chance to gerrymander, too.)

In recent years, it's the Republicans who've had the gerrymandered upper hand.

However, that all could change during the mid-term elections in November. Widespread dissatisfaction with the Republican pictured above has led some political prognosticators to predict that people may actually vote across party lines.

No matter how those lines have been drawn.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Vital Viewing (Hollywood to Broadway Edition)

Glenn Close, star of stage and screen, was born on this day in 1947.

In the above interview (Stephen Colbert seems genuinely curious about his guest, doesn't he?), mention is made of the Broadway revival of Sunset Boulevard, in which Close plays the mentally unstable former silent film star Norma Desmond, a role she had first tackled in the 1990s... much acclaim.

A clip from that earlier production:

Jane Goodall couldn't have delivered a better eulogy.

Before it was an Andrew Lloyd Webber musical, Sunset Boulevard was a 1950 motion picture directed by the great Billy Wilder. Though she didn't sing, Gloria Swanson, above, was the first person to play Norma Desmond. A classic line from that classic movie:

"I am big. It's the pictures that got small."

Or course, Norma, whether played by Gloria or Glenn, had no way of knowing just how small those pictures were going to get.

 "All right, Mr. De Mille, I'm ready for my close-up." 

Monday, March 12, 2018

This Day in History

Out with the old, and in with the new. That's the old on the left, President Herbert Hoover, a short car ride away from losing his job. That's the new on the right, Hoover's replacement, President-elect Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

"Do you, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, solemnly swear..."

"We have nothing... fear...

 ...but fear...


Well, those aren't exactly profiles in courage we see in the above three pictures. So what's going on? Runs on the bank, and I ain't talkin' a jog along side the river. In the three years since the Stock Market Crash of 1929, a few banks had gone insolvent and closed up shop, sometime without giving the depositors their money back because they were...insolvent. When that happens enough times, people begin deciding they'd better take out their money BEFORE the bank closes, which sometimes assures that banks NORMALLY solvent enough not to close...close. This all came to a head about the time Roosevelt took office. So, to stop it happening some more, he and the Congress decided... close ALL of the banks. For four days at least.

How to explain this to a panicked American public?

With the aid of that newfangled invention: the radio. On March 12, 1933, eight days after taking office, the President took to the airwaves:

That did the trick. Fears were calmed, the banks started re-opening the very next day, and the nation began its long climb out of the Great Depression.

All well and good, but I wonder, suppose there had been a different president back then, and suppose there had been Twitter back then? It might have gone something like this...

FAKE NEWS! Regulators are losers. I like Smoot-Hawley. John Steinbeck's wife is ugly. Sad.

Sunday, March 4, 2018

In Memoriam: David Ogden Stiers 1942-2018

One of the blogs I read regularly is written by Ken Levine, not the video game designer but a highly successful TV writer, among whose credits includes the long-running Korean War sitcom (or, if you will, comedy-drama) MASH. A couple of years ago, he was asked in his comment section what did he think the characters on that show would be doing today were they real people rather than fictional (in which case they ceased to exist after the series finale.) Levine replied that given that the Korean War ended more than 60 years ago, they would probably all be dead. Of course, the TV version of that war ended more recently, in 1983, some 35 years ago. Still, it's long enough of a time frame to take its toll on a several of that series actors. McLean Stevenson (Henry Blake), Larry Linville (Frank Burns), Harry Morgan (Colonel Potter), Wayne Rogers (Trapper John), and William Christopher (Father Mulcahy) have all left us. And as I'm sure you figured out the moment you clicked this on this post, David Ogden Stiers, who played the pompous, upper-crust surgeon Charles Winchester III, is gone now, too. Back in 1977, Stiers had a tough pair of army boots to fill as he had to take over for the talented Linville, whose Burns character was one of the funniest TV assholes of all time. However, Stiers was no slouch in the talent department himself. Winchester, particularly in the earlier episodes, could be every bit an asshole as Burns, but was also capable of something the latter character lacked (and was a major reason Linville chose to leave the series): depth. In addition to acting foolish, Charles occasionally acted noble (such as when he offered hope to a concert pianist whose right hand was damaged in the fighting), could come across as sympathetic (such as when he tried to romance a Korean goodtime girl who just wants him for his hamburgers), and, while often the butt of Hawkeye and BJ's jokes, had his own ways of humbling the two of them right back (such as when he produced a photo of himself and Audrey Hepburn). And unlike Frank Burns, Charles was a highly gifted surgeon, even if it did take a bit long for him to wash his hands.

A Charles Winchester III sampling:

What's that one one guy doing in Korea? He'd be better off at a sports bar in Boston.

Charles love of classical music set him apart from the motley 4077th crew.

Not that he could play it all that well himself.

Charles noble side.

 Remember those North Korean prisoners playing classical music at the end of that second clip? I'm afraid they never got to make an encore:

 Heavy scene. Much of the time, though, MASH was a comedy...

 ...not that all the yuks made things any easier for Charles.

Goodbye, farewell, and amen, David Ogden Stiers.