Posts Tagged ‘history’

A look at the turkey

November 23, 2011

As part of my occasional series titled “Lives of the Dead,” today’s post will look at the turkey.

This fabled American bird takes its place at the table with the likes of Christopher Columbus, Caesar Augustus, St. Patrick and Martin Luther as subjects of a DavisW’s blog profile. Not dead as a species but with plenty of specific casualties by this time tomorrow, the turkey becomes the first to be a living topic in this space. Let’s take a brief look at its history before we examine its innards over pumpkin pie and coffee at dinner Thursday.

In a way, it’s fitting the turkey be granted this exceptional treatment. As much as his species is appreciated as both a symbol of gratitude and a meat product, there have been no individual turkeys to rise above the rest and distinguish themselves. Other animals at least have had animated anthropomorphs to speak out on their behalf — Donald Duck, Porky Pigg, Sylvester the Cat, Fernando Lamas, the late Senator Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.). There’s never been a single famous turkey.

It’s probably due in part to what’s come to be known in zoology circles as the “K Factor”. The K Factor is that rule which says any animal with a “K” in its name is automatically funny and disrespected. Your monkeys, your donkeys, your yaks and your kangaroos all suffer from this syndrome and can’t get anyone to take them seriously. We laugh at the poor dumb turkey even as we enjoy his succulent thighs simply because it’s fun to say anything that rhymes with “jerky” or “quirky”.

The turkey first came to the attention of an increasingly hungry Western Civilization when 16th-century Europeans exploring America encountered a bird similar to their familiar guineafowl. Since their larger poultry were imported into continental markets through Central Europe from Turkey, they thought of calling the wild Meleagris gallopavo a “Serbian” but eventually settled instead on “turkey”. (That’s why we also get the word “grease” from Greece, and the word “chili” from Chile).

The wild turkey can weigh up to 100 pounds and has a wingspan of almost six feet. They can fly for short distances, mainly when they’re being pursued by predators. Turkeys have a distinctive fleshy wattle that hangs from the underside of their beak which, when combined with their huge breasts, make them resemble actress Pamela Anderson. (You can tell the two apart because the birds have too much sense to go anywhere near Kid Rock). They also have another protuberance growing off the top of their beaks and dangling off to the side called a “snood”. Links to recipes for these appendages, including the famous Wattle Supreme and the underappreciated Stewed Snood, will follow this article.

There’s a fairly extensive fossil record of the early turkeys, starting from the Miocene Epoch over 20 million years ago. Ancient remains have been found throughout the Western Hemisphere and, when they are, inevitably the wishbone is broken in two. The Aztecs called the creature huexolotl, and it was associated with their “trickster god” Tezcatlipoca when it wasn’t being killed and eaten. (Even then, the turkey was laughed at. Aztecs would’ve told each other “that wacky huexolotl and his pal Tezcatlipoca are at it again” if they could’ve pronounced either of the words.)

It’s only been in the last century or so that turkeys became a popular form of poultry. Though it’s likely the meat was served at the first Thanksgiving attended by the Pilgrims and the Indians, that’s probably only because they kept running around the food preparation area. It was actually too expensive to become a staple at holiday meals until just recently. Before World War II, goose or beef was more likely to comprise the common holiday dinner.

When the wild turkey was domesticated, its life became both easier and harder. Today’s birds could live to be ten years old if they weren’t slaughtered at about 16 weeks. They grow up on a factory farm, bred to have magnificent white feathers to make their carcasses more appealing. The male is the tom, the female is the hen, and the baby is a poult, though they don’t spend near enough time together as a family. Mature toms are too large to “achieve natural fertilization,” as Wikipedia delicately puts it, so their semen is manually collected and hens are inseminated artificially. Neither much care for this arrangement, but what are they going to do? Break out on their own and find a nice apartment they could afford on a turkey salary?

Turkeys are popularly believed to be unintelligent. Claims are made that during a rainstorm, they’ll look up at the falling precipitation until they drown. Recent research has shown, however, that many aren’t simply stupid but instead suffer from a genetic nervous disorder known as “tetanic torticollar spasms” that causes them to look skyward. Like human parents embarrassed by the poor performance of their offspring, turkey parents can point to a disorder similar to ADHD as the reason their brats are running around like madmen, toppling lamps and unable to stay focused for more than a few moments.

The turkey is now solidly a part of American lore, especially at this time of the year. Schoolchildren trace outstretched hands to create likenesses of the animal for fall craft projects. Coworkers abandon casual conversation in the breakroom and opt instead to gobble at each other. The turkey lobby brings one lucky tom to Washington so it can receive the traditional presidential pardon, though in an attempt to be seen as moving toward the political center after recent election losses, President Obama is considering slitting its throat this year.

By Wednesday of Thanksgiving week, all we really care about is how to prepare the bird for dinner. Available in the market as either fresh or frozen, the meat typically requires several hours baking or roasting in the oven to become fully cooked. A recent trend has seen the rise of a new method, deep-frying the turkey in an outdoor vat of hot oil for 45 minutes or until the entire set-up explodes and is next seen on YouTube under the title “Butterball goes fireball.”

Ultimately, the dish is surrounded by cranberry sauce, stuffing, sweet potatoes, corn, and whatever that awful casserole is that your sister-in-law keeps bringing year after year. Extended families come together to share an all-too-brief moment of togetherness before heading back to their separate lives watching televised images of Dallas Cowboys and Detroit Lions facing their own slaughter. Soon, the notorious “tryptophan coma” descends on the gathering like a cloud of carbon monoxide until participants awake to find themselves waiting in line for Walmart to open at 2 in the morning.

As we pause during the next 24 hours to give thanks for all the bounty we share, let’s not forget to express appreciation to the noble turkey for his contribution. If Ben Franklin had his way, the creature would be our national bird, seen all over our money and other national emblems instead of all over our shirts and tablecloths. And we’d be eating bald eagles for dinner, arguing over who gets the bald spot rather than who gets the drumstick.

I’ve had deep-fried eagle before and, trust me, it’s not something you’d want to eat.

Note: To read more about Lives of the Dead, please visit the following posts:

He’d say “Happy Thanksgiving,” but the snood keeps getting in the way

Finding new uses for the coupon

November 10, 2011

One evening in 1803, Thomas Jefferson came home from his job as president of the United States with exciting news. He had negotiated the Louisiana Purchase, a $15-million transaction in which France handed over nearly a million square miles of territory to his fledgling nation. All lands from the Mississippi River to the Rocky Mountains would now be American.

“Soon we will span the continent,” Jefferson told his wife Martha. “Our manifest destiny to stretch from sea to sea has been set in motion by my presidency. We have purchased the future of America.”

“Did you use the coupon on the refrigerator?” a skeptical Martha asked. “Because, you know, Napoleon is having a special, and with any purchase over $10 million, they’ll throw in the French West Indies.”

“This is the best deal since we bought the island of Manhattan for $24,” Jefferson answered. “The size of our land has been doubled.”

“You didn’t use the coupon, did you?” Martha continued. “Oh, well.”

The coupon may not trace its origins quite that far back, but the hope of getting a better deal has always been with us. In mankind’s earliest history, hunters and gatherers would return to the cave with what they thought was an impressive array of roots, berries and elk chunks, only to have their pride deflated by the well-intentioned spouse who’d been hoping for a free order of tree bark as well.

Americans save billions of dollars a year with just a little foresight and a pair of scissors. The coupon (pronounced “kew-pahn” by the unwashed and “coo-pohn” by those of us with a continental flair) has made its way into our everyday retail buying habits. For almost every product or service you can name, there is the opportunity to save substantial amounts on your purchase by handing over a thin slip of printed paper with your cash.

To her credit, my wife does a fantastic job of watching out for bargains that benefit the bottom line of our family’s budget. The picture below shows just a part of our collection, hanging in plain sight on the refrigerator where only a blind moron such as me could miss them.

I frequently neglect to use these coupons despite repeated reminders. A silly sense of pride is part of this — I see myself casually accepting of any price announced by the cashier with the noble proclamation that I’m willing to pay “whatever the cost” — though it’s primarily a memory issue. I’m lucky to remember my car keys and my clothing before leaving the house on a buying errand.

I’m trying to do better. Even though the 1/20th of a cent in cash value doesn’t go as far today as it used to, it still pays to shop wisely. The image of the Coupon Queen hauling a file cabinet full of paperwork up to the checkout so she can save $3.67 is now little more than a stereotype. Even urbane men of the world are regularly seen these days pulling a wad of vouchers out of their finely tailored suits to save a few bucks on the business lunch that will seal the upcoming merger.

Keeping this in mind has helped me do a better job of using coupons. I’ve now become enough of a veteran bargain-hunter that I understand slight variations in how the coupon economy works. Once you’ve steeled yourself to the humiliation of a transaction that announces to the world how cheap you are, there are subtleties at work in different settings that are worth knowing.

The coupon is most commonplace in the supermarket. Some stores even have special double- or even triple-coupon Tuesdays, where essentially they pay you to cart their stuff away. It’s not at all unusual to see every one of your fellow shoppers racking up big savings, buying one and getting one free, earning a quarter off here and free bag-of-chips-they-don’t-even-like there as they stretch their grocery dollar to extraordinary lengths.

A casual attitude toward the coupon also exists in the fast-food industry. As long as you declare your intention at the drive-through speakerbox to use it (in addition to “I have a coupon,” also acceptable is “I had a suit on” and “I’d like some Grey Poupon”), they’ll often ring up your discount without even taking the thing from you. The deals are usually not that great, and often involve some leftover, failed promotional item, like the McSquid sandwich or the Whopper Super Extreme, an all-beef patty topped with battery acid.

It’s in finer dining establishments where things tend to get dicey. You’ll want to keep the coupon hidden until you’ve finished your meal, unless you want smaller portions and/or spittle in your salad. Produce the discount as you ask for your check, and have confidence in your right to use it. I usually say something like “I have this coupon I was hoping to use if it’s something you accept and you promise we’ll never meet again.” Beware of hidden details in the fine print that may disrupt your plans. My wife and I once had a coupon rejected because we tried to use it on Veteran’s Day Eve, because holidays were specifically excluded from the offer. (In the end, we were just happy to have found a reservation on a night as crowded with celebrating couples as Veteran’s Day Eve).

Finally, there are opportunities to use coupons to purchase services as well as goods. I’m frequently able to take advantage of an offer for $8.99 haircuts at Great Clips (regular price: $11). The good thing about this set-up is that you don’t pay until after the cut is done, and by then there’s not much your stylist can do to mess you up on purpose, short of holding you down and gluing your floor trimmings back onto your scalp. The bad thing, for me anyway, is that I usually feel so guilty about gypping a struggling single mom out of a few dollars that I leave an excessive tip that negates any savings.

Harking back to the Jeffersons, it seems the time is right to expand coupon usage to other kinds of transactions, like those involving the government. Maybe we consider additional incentives to sympathetic Afghan warlords to accompany their direct cash payments, maybe a coupon for half-off the latest ground-to-air missile technology. How about offering the Chinese a deal on Treasury bills, in which a piece of an American monument is thrown in for every $100 billion sold? They could be given Teddy Roosevelt’s eyebrow off of Mt. Rushmore and hardly anybody would notice. Or the Statue of Liberty’s exposed armpit, which could then be covered up with a Band-Aid. You could say she nicked herself shaving. It’d make her more human.

Regardless of what the nation chooses to do, I’ll keep trying to remember to use my coupons. Frugality and thrift are valuable traits in these bad economic times, and I shouldn’t be ashamed to show them. Our third president would’ve been wise to heed the encouragement of his wife. Imagine Martinique as our 51st state.

A salute to Columbus Day, one day late

October 11, 2011

Christopher Columbus went to his grave with the mistaken belief that his historic voyages of exploration had landed him in Asia. To honor the heritage of his error, it is today that I celebrate Columbus Day, even though the 519th anniversary of his discovery was actually yesterday.

Columbus Day was officially changed to the second Monday of October years ago. Such historical revisionism would’ve pleased the man credited with finding the New World, despite the fact the Vikings had made settlements in Canada 500 years earlier, and millions of natives already in the Americas had discovered themselves long ago.

The legacy of the fabled Italian mariner who famously sailed the ocean blue has swung from positive to negative in recent years. Historians stripped him of his title of “Discoverer of America,” giving him instead the wordier and more specific honorific of “the man who led to general European awareness of the American continents in the Western Hemisphere”. He got to keep the naming rights to Columbus, Ohio, Columbia, S.C., and the nation of Colombia, though he would’ve gladly traded those to Verizon for a multi-year deal when he toppled into bankruptcy in his later years. His legacy now is one of exploitation, genocide and enslavement, not much for even the best PR firm to work with.

So we (sort of) honor him with a holiday for mailmen, bankers and owners of liquor stores, a limited but fitting observance of the life of someone whose star has faded.

Columbus was born in 1451 in Genoa, Italy. His parents were middle class, with his father working as a wool weaver, tavern owner and proprietor of a cheese stand. (Years later, the Catholic Church almost agreed to fund his first voyage when a cardinal misunderstood his desire to “bring cheeses to the pagans.”) Young Christopher loved adventure from an early age, and longed to spread his influence throughout the known world. He became a semen in his late teens but, when he learned that sperm donation for cash was still centuries in the future, switched his career to seaman. He traveled extensively throughout Europe as a business agent for important Genoese families, going as far as West Africa, Britain and possibly Iceland to get away from his wife, whom he left for good in 1487.

He taught himself Latin, astronomy, geography and history, even though he is not regarded as a scholarly man. He made hundreds of notations in the books he read, and clung vigorously to the simple, strong and sometimes wrong ideas that a self-educated person gains from independent reading, making him something of a Glenn Beck of his time.

When he hatched his plans to sail west to Asia, Europe was confronting the challenge of how to maintain the spice and opium trade with the Indies after the Ottoman Turks closed the Silk Road in 1453. The entire continent was going through Vicodin withdrawal, and searching about desperately for cough syrup and/or new routes to the Orient. Columbus presented his “Enterprise of the Indies” proposal to the Portuguese king as early as 1485, asking for three sturdy ships and the title of “Great Admiral of the Ocean.” The king’s experts thought correctly that Columbus underestimated the distance he needed to travel, but he was only off by about 9,000 miles.

Next he sought an audience with Spanish monarchs and singing duo Ferdinand and Isabella. They also rebuffed Columbus, yet were intrigued enough by his ideas to offer him 12,000 maravedis to keep them to himself, lest rival nations somehow benefit from the cock-eyed notion that you go west to get east. But he wouldn’t take “no” for an answer, despite the fact that it’s pronounced the same way in Spanish and Italian. Finally, the king and queen gave in to his incessant pestering, and Columbus was good to go.

In August of 1492, he set sail from Palos, Spain, with three small ships: the Nina, the Pinta and the Sea Yawl Later. In just over two months, this modest fleet reached land in the present-day Bahamas, at a site he named San Salvador but which is now known by the less-romantic name of Watling Island. Here he encountered indigenous peoples who were peaceful and friendly, much to their later regret. Columbus liked them a lot, noting that “they ought to make good servants, for they repeat whatever we say to them … I think they can very easily be made Christians.” He kidnapped a dozen or two to take back to Spain with him but most of them died en route. Even in those days, it was tough to find good help, or at least the kind that survived long ocean voyages.

Columbus continued this first of four expeditions, knocking around the Caribbean like a college dropout with a Eurail pass. Later in October, he sighted Cuba, which he thought was China. In December, he landed on Hispaniola, which he thought was Japan. There, he established a colony of 39 men and left them behind, which he thought was a good idea (when he returned on a later voyage to stop and say “hi,” all had disappeared). Nothing was what it seemed in this foreign world, at least not if you held 15th-century concepts of navigation and interpersonal relations. Columbus gathered up some gold and some spices – most notably basil, oregano and coriander that Isabella needed for her paella recipes – and returned to Spain.

There, he received a hero’s welcome. He had shown that great wealth lay just over the horizon to the east, regardless of whether you wanted to call it Asia, the Indies or America. He proved that the earth was round and that circumnavigation of the globe was possible. He opened up two whole continents whose riches over the next century would make Spain the most powerful nation in the world. And don’t forget the paella.

Columbus would make three more voyages over the next ten years, two of which were billed as reunion gigs while the last was a farewell tour meant to supplement his admiral income. On the second trip, he discovered Montserrat, Antigua, St. Kitts and St. Croix, to the everlasting thanks of twenty-first century rock stars looking for secluded beach getaways. During the third voyage, he explored the mainland of South America and had some of his crew hanged for disobeying him. On his last trip in 1502, he was looking for the Indian Ocean which, you have to admit, does kind of look like Jamaica, which is what he actually found. He came close to discovering the Pacific Ocean in Panama, but he probably would’ve thought it was the World Showcase lagoon at Epcot.

Despite some legal problems that led to him being briefly jailed, Columbus enjoyed a good four years of retirement, living on the gold he had accumulated from the New World. He died of a heart attack reportedly brought on by arthritis, conjunctivitis and painful urination at age 55 in 1506.

Even though he was quite callous in his dealings with his own men, and is now widely recognized as pretty much a dick when it came to respecting aboriginal civilizations, Christopher Columbus still deserves recognition for the bravery it took to sail off into the unknown and expand the known world to its current size.

Even 518 years and 364 days later, he deserves to be remembered. If you had to work on this holiday meant to celebrate his life, drive a different route to the office than you might normally take, and just explain to your boss that you’re two months late in honor of the spirit of exploration. If you did get to stay home for the holiday, stroll next door to infect your neighbor with smallpox, then move into his house when he leaves for the hospital. If he complains when he gets out, tell him he’s mistaken his old neighborhood for Asia.

“You haven’t seen Asia around here anywhere, have you?”

The magic of Mennen

August 31, 2011

About two months ago, I noticed that my Mennen’s Speed Stick deodorant seemed to be running low.

I use one of those roll-on applicators, the kind with the knob at the bottom. You turn the dial and a waxy amalgam peeks out the top. You roll this stuff into your pit and, in return for the effort, your underarms become largely inoffensive for most of the day.

I bought another one the next time I was at the grocery store, and sat it on the bathroom counter next to the nearly depleted one.

I continued to use the old dispenser, with the anticipation that soon I’d be completely out. But as the days wore on, a startling fact began to emerge along with the green, scented goo.

The old deodorant was not going away. I had stumbled onto the legendary Everlasting Speed Stick.

Prophets for centuries have told of the eventual coming of a deodorant that would never run out. Man — and Woman, and Teens For That Matter — had struggled since time immemorial to suppress the odor that seeped from the tiny sweat glands under their arms.

Once an agrarian economy was in place, the evolutionary adaptation that used perspiration to cool the hollows on either side of our chest had outlived its benefit. (Woolly mammoths and giant sloths were in no position to complain about the smell of the hunter-gatherers who preceded modern humans). Homo sapiens needed inert pits if they were to build an industrial society.

Most historians trace the invention of underarm deodorants to a 9th-century Persian named Ziryab. Little is known about the specifics of his device. Ziryab was a “polymath,” or one who dabbled in many subjects, and served as poet, musician, designer, astronomer and botanist in the court of Cordoba. Considering these interests, it is speculated that the first roll-on was either a collection of herbs, or wads of discarded rubaiyats.

In modern times, the first commercial deodorant came on the market in 1888 under the name “Mum.” By the 1950s, it had evolved into what we know today as Ban Roll-On.

Within ten years, however, the first aerosol antiperspirant was released by Gillette under the name “Right Guard,” which led spray deodorants to an 82% market share by 1970. When scientists discovered that the chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) in aerosols were depleting the ozone layer, the federal government weighed the benefits of smelly citizens versus widespread death from cosmic radiation and banned CFC propellants.

Today, stick deodorants are by far the most popular type of antiperspirant. They are sold in stores around the world, allowing civilized societies everywhere to thrive without people constantly threatening to beat up their fellow citizens for having BO.

Though cheap and readily available, the modern products that prevent attacks of “not-so-freshness” eventually run out and have to be replaced. This happens with both frequency and startling unpredictability. One morning, you’re slathering on product from what feels like a fully loaded bottle, and the next morning, you’re out. Toothpastes, mouthwashes and hair gels are then pressed into emergency action to serve as inadequate substitutes.

The Biblical Prophet Elijah, in 1 Kings 18:22, wrote of a day that would eventually come where “the pits of the many shall be fragranced by the unguents of the few,” in what many interpret as a prediction that deodorant will one day flow freely throughout the land. The mystic Nostradamus wrote obliquely that “humors and ethers that tend to offend/Will one day be cured by a stick without end.”

So is the magical Mennen’s sitting in my bathroom right now the One We Have Waited For, the salvation for a people weary of paying convenience-store prices for emergency odor suppressant?

The packaging reveals few clues. It claims to offer “powerful odor protection that lasts all day,” a “clean masculine scent” and a “patented comfort guard applicator for comfort and control.” It warns “DO NOT APPLY TO BROKEN SKIN” and “KEEP OUT OF REACH OF CHILDREN.” Ingredients include the innocuous-sounding propylene glycol and sodium stearate. There is an 800-number so you can call manufacturer Colgate-Palmolive with questions, but I hesitate to ask a call center employee in India if my deodorant might be magical.

I think I should let the people decide. Like those witnesses to miracles who see Jesus in the rust on their back door, or the Virgin Mary in the smeared ink of their Walmart receipt, I should spread word of my finding. If pilgrims come from near and far to see Everlasting Speed Stick, perhaps that will prove its sanctity.

So I invite both my readers, and those who end up hearing only hints about the existence of such a paranormal phenomenon, to come to my home and witness the stick. See if you can figure out how I can continue to use it morning after morning without it ever running out. Examine the vessel for any trickery or tampering. Help me figure out: Could this be grooming breakthrough that we’ve awaited for centuries?

All I ask is that you don’t apply my deodorant to your underarms. That would be gross.

Deodorant surges provocatively from its vessel, prompting questions from the supernatural

Revisited: Lives of the Dead — Augustus, father of August

August 6, 2011

It can easily be said that August, without any equivocation or debate, is the suckiest month of the year. It’s way too hot. Students are dreading the start of the school year, just around the corner. There are no holidays, unless you count Ecuadorean independence day. Pre-season football is a joke, TV reruns abound and our only other source of entertainment — a dysfunctional Congress and its pathetic antics — is on recess.

Why do we even bother with such a poor excuse for a month? As with most of our modern-day blights, we can blame the Romans.

August, the month, was named for Augustus, the Roman emperor. Actually, Augustus is only one of several names used by the man who succeeded Julius Caesar and governed the world’s greatest empire around the time of Christ. He was born “Gaius Octavius Thurinus” in 63 B.C., then became “Gaius Julius Caesar” when his great-uncle was assassinated, and later “Gaius Julius Caesar Augustus.” It’s probably only due to the Roman Senate’s decision to add the “Augustus” (or “revered one”) that this isn’t known as the “Gaiest” month.

Though it sounds like New York is going ahead with that designation anyway.

Augustus appeared to take full advantage of the confusion around what to call him. (Imagine how far you could go in your career if you decided to change your name every now and then — “You say Bob failed to turn in his report yesterday? Good thing my name is Al.”)

His beginnings were fairly humble for someone who was the nephew of a man they’d ultimately name a surgical birthing procedure after. His father died when he was 4, and his mother remarried a man named Philippus. This guy claimed to be descended from Alexander the Great, so you know he was a bit on the self-absorbed side and had little time for young Octavius. Because of this, he was raised by his grandmother, Julia Caesar.

When she died, he gave such a terrific eulogy that his mother and step-father decided he was a good kid after all, and took a more active role in raising him. He held several part-time jobs typical for Roman teenagers — a member of the College of Pontiffs, staging the Greek games that honored the Temple of Venus Genetrix — but what he really wanted was to join his great-uncle’s military campaign in Africa. At first his mom said no, then she said okay, then he got sick and couldn’t make the trip.

Finally, he was well enough to sail to the front, if you can call becoming shipwrecked “sailing.” He made it to shore and crossed hostile territory to reach Caesar’s camp, greatly impressing the mighty general. Since Caesar didn’t have any children of his own, he decided to dash off a new will naming Octavius his heir, and deposited the document with the Vestal Virgins, who were kind of like the probate court of the time, except even more virginal.

After the Africa gig, he spent several years in military training until that fateful Ides of March in 44 B.C. It was only after the assassination that he found he had been adopted by Julius, so of course he felt obliged to mass some troops and arrive in Rome to claim his newly acquired birthright.

There, he encountered Marc Antony — the consul, not the Jennifer Lopez ex-husband – who was to be a rival for succession. They actually got along pretty good at first, though Antony started losing a lot of political support when he opposed the Senate initiative to declare Julius Caesar a god (seems like they should’ve thought of that before he was knifed; he might’ve survived). Octavius, by now called “Octavian,” convinced Antony to take a prolonged vacation in France, which is probably where the modern-day French got the idea to take the entire month of August off.

After everybody chilled out for a while, Antony was allowed to come back to Rome where he, Octavian and Marcus Lepidus (kind of a Sarah Palin who came out of nowhere) formed the Second Triumvirate. They would rule equally for a period of five years, after which they would be term-limited out of office.

The trio set in motion a series of “proscriptions” for some of the senators and other elites who had opposed them. A proscription was not something you got filled at CVS and took twice a day; instead, it meant your property would be appropriated and if you complained at all, you’d be killed. This is even worse than waiting 45 minutes for your meds and then finding out they’re not covered by your insurance.

Octavian’s family life became as complicated as his public career. He wanted a divorce from Clodia Pulchra, who happened to be the daughter of Marc Antony’s first wife. Naturally, Antony’s wife was unhappy with this turn of events so she did what everybody did when they got pissed off in those days – she raised an army. Octavian didn’t much care, and proceeded to marry Scribonia, who gave him his only natural-born child on the same day he dumped her and married Livia Drusilla. (Attention, Newt Gingrich). Meanwhile, Antony married Octavian’s sister, but he soon started diddling Cleopatra on the side. This was the final straw, leading to a great naval battle between Octavian and Antony. Antony lost, and fell on his sword, probably not by accident. Cleopatra did her famous snake-handling shtick and soon both were dead.

Now Octavian could return to Rome and rule unchallenged. This is when the Senate granted him the name Augustus, and gave him power over Rome’s religious, civil and military affairs. They still claimed they’d act as an “advisory body” to Octavian/Augustus, but mostly this ended up consisting of telling him what a great job he was doing.

And in fact, modern-day historians now agree with that assessment. He restored peace after 100 years of civil war, maintained an honest government, improved the infrastructure and fostered free trade. Art and literature flourished under his patronage. The empire expanded to Spain, France and Dalmatia, a small but important region of only 101 inhabitants.

Despite this success, he remained modest when he wasn’t murdering people, and refused to hold a scepter, wear a diadem or don the purple toga of his predecessor, though the latter was due more to the inability of ancient dry-cleaners to get out blood stains.

Augustus died in 14 A.D. while visiting his father’s grave. Always a great fan of the theater and a bit of a drama queen himself, his final words were “Have I played the part well? Then applaud as I exit.” His body was returned to Rome for a huge funeral at which he was eulogized by Tiberius, the stepson/former son-in-law/adopted son who became the next emperor by virtue of being one of the few family members Augustus decided to leave alone. Augustus was declared a god (again, a little late, if you ask me) and cremated on a pyre close to his mausoleum. There, his ashes rested in peace until Goths sacked Rome in 410 and used them for kitty litter.

Despite a job-hopping resume that included positions as triumvir, general, senator, consul, proconsul, princeps, imperator, tribune, censor, pontifex maximum and pater patriae, Augustus is generally regarded as perhaps the most successful of ancient Roman autocrats. His nature so matched the restlessness that we all feel during this hottest month of the year that naming August after him seems like a fitting tribute.

Let us gaily hail Augustus even as we count the days till a cooler September.

U.S. might have to move in with ‘rents

July 28, 2011

The United States, facing a debt crisis that could cripple the nation economically for years to come, has decided to move back in with its parents.

And England has mixed feelings about the decision.

“That boy needs to learn to stand on his own two feet,” said British Prime Minister David Cameron. “He’ll never amount to anything if he keeps up this irresponsibility.”

“Oh, David, he’s had a difficult time lately. Don’t be so hard on him,” countered Queen Elizabeth II. “He’s our own flesh and blood. We can’t turn him away.”

The United States, or “Uni” as his parents call him, is looking at a default on its financial obligations as early as next Tuesday because it can’t agree to raise the debt ceiling. Should that default occur, the nation will be looking for any way it can to save money, and eliminating its monthly rental payment on the North American continent could be one option.

“It’d just be short term, I promise,” said Uni of the proposed move. “I could stay in their basement. The Tube (London’s underground subway system) would be ideal, and I could do any fix-up it needs. It might be a tight squeeze for 300 million people down there, but I really don’t have many choices.”

The U.S. is facing not only the much-publicized debt crisis. It’s also trying to recover from the Great Recession, which has kept unemployment figures near 10% for almost two years, as well as a growing budget deficit and unprecedented income disparities between rich and poor.

Uni faces revenue shortfalls that are being caused in part because of unreasonable demands by his roommates to keep income at historically low levels, and because his job as World Policeman recently changed from full-time to part-time.

“I still might be able to pick up some freelance work in security, like being a night watchman or something,” Uni said. “But what I really want is to do something creative. I’m thinking this is the right time to pursue my dreams of becoming a rock musician. There’s good money in that.”

But Britain’s prime minister said he felt like that was an “immature choice” for someone of Uni’s age.

“He’s 235 years old, for Christ’s sake. He needs to grow up,” Cameron said of the plan. “He needs to get a real job, like his brother Canada, who’s doing quite well as a pharmacy tech.”

Cameron proposed that Uni could live instead with his sibling to the north, who has vast amounts of uninhabited land in its Arctic regions. The U.S. countered that it’d never get a gig “way the hell up there” and even if it did, “I don’t think the Eskimos would get our particular blend of ska, hip-hop and R&B.”

The Queen, however, seemed much more willing to accept having the entire U.S. return to the land from which it won its independence in 1776.

“I can’t help it; I’m a mother and I still love all my former subjects, even if they’ve made bad choices about how they’d be governed,” Elizabeth said. “I’d take any of them back in a second. Except maybe for India. Try as I might, I don’t think we could find room for 1.3 billion people on our fair little island.”

Uni continues to blame part of his problems, though, on the people he invited to live with him in 2010. He says they gave him some bad advice that led to his current predicament.

“When I first met Sarah at a tea party back in 2008, I thought she and her friends were good people,” Uni said of his roommates. “But I had the hardest time getting them to pay their portion of the rent, electricity, cable, etc. We’d get all these nasty letters and phone calls from collection agencies, but they said I should just blow them off. That’s what I did, and now look at the trouble I’m in.”

“They said paying bills and living up to your obligations is for squares,” Uni added. “I should be in one of those commercials. I know my band would do it in a second.”

If the Leader of the Free World can convince his father to go along with the move, he said he’d eventually pay Britain back, with interest.

“My buds Moody and Standard and Poor will tell you I’m good for it,” the United States said. “Just be sure you ask them before next Tuesday.”

Uni said he thought he could be comfortable living in England until things turn in his favor, despite the lack of some amenities he’s grown accustomed to while living on his own.

“My folks don’t have internet, for example, so it’s going to be tough to keep up with all my social networking,” the U.S. said. “I think, though, that Ireland next door has unsecured wireless, so I’m hoping I can poach off of that.”

“That’s exactly the attitude that has to change,” countered PM Cameron. “If he’s going to continue to welsh like that, he can just live with his cousins the Welsh.”

Plenty of room on the platform for futon, beanbag chair and cement-block bookshelves

Revisited: I do declare I’m pursuing some happiness

July 4, 2011

I thought I’d engage in the “pursuit of happiness” today by doing one of my favorite leisure activities, criticizing the efforts of others. My neighbors look like they have a grand cookout going next door, and the people down the street are loading up their boat trailer for an outing on the lake. Later tonight, there will be several fireworks displays to choose from.

I won’t be enjoying my holiday with any of these frivolous pursuits. Instead, I think it’s important that someone point out the awkward and archaic writing style of our Founding Fathers, as exemplified by their 1776 term paper entitled “A Declaration of Independence.”

I’m not positive it’s a term paper, but it sure reads like one, what with all the run-on sentences and pretentious word choices and calls for armed insurrection. The Declaration is one of America’s most hallowed documents. This is not because it’s concise and well-reasoned but rather, I think, because it’s handwritten in calligraphy on yellowed parchment and contains lots of words like “usurpation” and “consanguinity.” It eventually gets to the point (King of England bad, New England good), however, it uses such a circuitous route to get there that a reader’s attention is easily lost.

I’ve spent my entire adult career as either an editor or proofreader, and so I take great pride in knowing how to properly use the language. Despite recent debate on this site as to whether or not it’s okay to use “summit” as a verb, and my own internal debate about whether I should counter this challenge from my old college roommate by urging him to “eat me,” I think of myself as an able writer. I probably could’ve even been an English teacher if I’d wanted to.

What follows, then, is my attempt to critique the document that paved the way for this great nation of laws, in which people are free to pursue their dreams for well-being and happiness, as long as that doesn’t include having a secure job or reasonably priced healthcare. The sacred words of the Declaration appear below in black, and my notes follow each paragraph in red.


When in the course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the laws of nature and of nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation. [This should be broken up into at least three sentences, which would then enable you to drop one completely. Also, instead of “when in the course of human events,” I might suggest the more colloquial “every now and then” or “from time to time.”]

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. That whenever any form of government becomes destructive to these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shown that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such government, and to provide new guards for their future security. –Such has been the patient sufferance of these colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former systems of government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute tyranny over these states. To prove this, let facts be submitted to a candid world. [Where do I begin? I know what you mean by “inalienable” but your average reader is going to think they’re getting a science fiction short story. I’d soften the reference to “absolute despotism” so you don’t lose any readers who might be on the fence, and instead go with something like “annoying inconvenience.” Don’t use “usurpation” twice in the same paragraph when “being grabby” might do just as well. And this “Prudence” you introduce needs to have her character fleshed out if the reader is going to sympathize with her.]

He has refused his assent to laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good. [I like where you’re going here. People love bullet points. You’ve got the makings of a great PowerPoint slide in these next few punchy lines.]

He has forbidden his governors to pass laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them. [I’d lose the semicolon. Though it might be technically proper, most people these days think it’s an emoticon, and a forceful call for freedom and justice is only diminished by a winky eye.]

He has refused to pass other laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of representation in the legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only. [I don’t know what “inestimable” means so you better take it out.]

He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their public records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures. [Criticizing the King’s choice of hotels tends to diminish his other negative traits, like the tyranny and such.]

He has dissolved representative houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people. [I’d make the same point about “manly firmness” that I did about “inalienable” — this is not a bodice ripper and it’s not sci fi.]

He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected; whereby the legislative powers, incapable of annihilation, have returned to the people at large for their exercise; the state remaining in the meantime exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within. [I like the sense of action you’re trying to portray here with words like “annihilation” and “convulsions” and “invasion” and “exercise.” Keep this up, and you may find yourself writing the screenplay for the next Vin Diesel movie.]

He has endeavored to prevent the population of these states; for that purpose obstructing the laws for naturalization of foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migration hither, and raising the conditions of new appropriations of lands. [If you’re trying to make a point about immigration here, you’ve lost me. Also, you should consider a synonym for “hither,” and I wouldn’t recommend “thither.”]

He has obstructed the administration of justice, by refusing his assent to laws for establishing judiciary powers. [Good to see you back on the snappy bullet points.]

He has made judges dependent on his will alone, for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries. [Now you’re cooking.]

He has erected a multitude of new offices, and sent hither swarms of officers to harass our people, and eat out their substance. [Again with the “hither”? Also, note that “eat out” has at least two unintended meanings you might want to avoid.]

He has kept among us, in times of peace, standing armies without the consent of our legislature. [Would you be happier if they took a seat? JK :) ]

He has affected to render the military independent of and superior to civil power. [Timely stuff, in light of the McChrystal story. Way to keep it current.]

He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his assent to their acts of pretended legislation: [Okay, and that would include…?]

For quartering large bodies of armed troops among us: [I hope all these colons are just a conversion error. Did you start out in Word Perfect then switch to Word?]

For protecting them, by mock trial, from punishment for any murders which they should commit on the inhabitants of these states: [You might be getting a little carried away with the bullet points.]

For cutting off our trade with all parts of the world: [Or might each of these be individual slides?]

For imposing taxes on us without our consent: [Hope you’ve got some clip art]

For depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of trial by jury: [My favorite is the one with the guy holding a pointer.]

For transporting us beyond seas to be tried for pretended offenses: [Some sea gulls could probably work here.]

For abolishing the free system of English laws in a neighboring province, establishing therein an arbitrary government, and enlarging its boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule in these colonies: [Don’t bring Canada into this unless you’re looking for a big fight on your hands.]

For taking away our charters, abolishing our most valuable laws, and altering fundamentally the forms of our governments: [Serial comma preceding the “and” is not used in American English.]

For suspending our own legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever. [Can’t use a period here — it’s not a complete sentence].

He has abdicated government here, by declaring us out of his protection and waging war against us. [Are you sure you don’t mean “advocated”?]

He has plundered our seas, ravaged our coasts, burned our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people. [Are we talking Vin Diesel here or King George III?]

He is at this time transporting large armies of foreign mercenaries to complete the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of cruelty and perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the head of a civilized nation. [“Perfidy” will be like, zoom, right over most readers’ heads.]

He has constrained our fellow citizens taken captive on the high seas to bear arms against their country, to become the executioners of their friends and brethren, or to fall themselves by their hands. [Suddenly this is a pirate story? Focus!!]

He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavored to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian savages, whose known rule of warfare, is undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions. [Very politically incorrect. A more frightening modifier of “savage” might be “Michael”.]

In every stage of these oppressions we have petitioned for redress in the most humble terms: our repeated petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A prince, whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people. [Finally, I see you’re getting to the point. We don’t ask that these essays be a minimum of a thousand words just so you can draw things out. We want instead a thorough argument.]

Nor have we been wanting in attention to our British brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which, would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, enemies in war, in peace friends. [You’ll change your feelings once the Beatles come along, trust me.]

We, therefore, the representatives of the United States of America, in General Congress, assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the name, and by the authority of the good people of these colonies, solemnly publish and declare, that these united colonies are, and of right ought to be free and independent states; that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the state of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as free and independent states, they have full power to levy war, conclude peace, contract alliances, establish commerce, and to do all other acts and things which independent states may of right do. And for the support of this declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor. [Do you think 18 commas in one sentence might be a tad excessive? There’s also a lot of what I call “la-di-da” in here — sounding all high and mighty and self-important. It’s like the office memo that begins “it has come to my attention” — totally off-putting.]

[All in all, you have some very strong messages here but they tend to get lost in your attempt to show how many big words you know. Breaking free from the powerful English empire is admittedly a difficult enterprise, and you need strong language to accomplish such an effort, though bullets and guns are also going to be helpful. Don’t fall for that old bromide about ‘the pen is mightier than the sword’ — that’s a load of crap. Speaking of which, I’m taking off an automatic ten points for submitting your work in longhand rather than in an electronic format. How am I supposed to submit this to]

World War II, according to Sarah

June 8, 2011

In the midst of her tour of the Northeast, former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin took time yesterday to visit a high school in Springfield, Vermont.

“With her recent comments concerning Paul Revere, we knew she was a student of history,” said Bob Scuggs, the principal who invited her. “We wanted to give a lesson on World War II to commemorate the anniversary of D-Day, and thought she might be the perfect guest lecturer for such a speech.”

The following is a transcript of Palin’s Tuesday lecture to about 300 students.

Well, I’m usually not one to be puttin’ a lot of stock in what the East Coast intellectual elites have to say, but in this case I have consulted My Big Little Golden Book of Twentieth-Century History. Don’t want all those pointy-headed pundits to be second-guessin’ my presentation today.

Most of the so-called experts trace the roots of World War II to the harsh reparations imposed on Germany after World War I, which was kinda like WW2 except that it had a one in it. The Treaty of Versace required the Germans to spend a lot more on high-fashion wardrobes than they normally would — like what McCain’s people did to me when I ran for vice-president — and it caused hyperinflation that ruined their economy. A loaf of bread, for example, might cost a zillion dollars. It’s not unlike what Obama has done to our gas prices today.

All this inflatin’ of prices created an unstable environment which encouraged Hitler’s rise to power. He was what they called a “national socialist,” or “Nazi,” and we all know how bad socialists are. But the German people were like, “Hey, what else are we supposed to do? Vote for a Democrat?”

Meanwhile, over there in Asia, the Japanese were invadin’ the Chinese, or maybe it was the other way around (after all, how could you tell the difference?) No, wait, it was the Japanese and they and their emperor, who they called “Hero Hito,” were lookin’ for natural resources in Manchuria, especially Chinese food, which could fuel their expansionist plans in the Pacific.

The Germans too were interested in expandin’. In particular, they needed water so, in 1939, they invaded Poland, lookin’ for those coveted Poland Springs. The British and the French weren’t goin’ to go for that, so their leaders stood up and declared “War!” and the great conflict began.

Hitler and his army blitzed across Europe, taking advantage of strong gun control laws in places like Belgium and Holland to defeat the Low-Landers. Meanwhile, in Italy, Fussolini came to power as a Fascist — an ideology that can be described as “Nazi Light” and yet contained a lot of good ideas we’re tryin’ out here in the ol’ Republican Party.

By the time France fell — they had drunk so much wine that they lost their balance — the English were in danger of an imminent invasion. They had managed to evacuate most of their army from the European mainland at Dunkirk, where the Germans pulled a “gotcha” and almost captured the entire Allied force. But the UK-ers would survive to fight another day, in what would become known as the Battle of Britain.

To soften up the English, which I wouldn’t have thought was necessary, but whatever, the Nazi Luft-Waffle (German for “a continental breakfast of death from the skies”) bombarded the British Isles. The brave Brits fought back as best they could, hurling bangers ‘n’ mash, fish ‘n’ chips, and tea ‘n’ crumpets at the low-flying attack planes. On the Eastern Front, the Germans invaded Russia, where the Communists used a tactic known as “stallin'” (in Russian, “Stalin”) to tie up the invaders before they could take Moscow.

By 1941, things looked bleak for the Allies. Matters only got worse by the end of the year, when the Japanese staged an unprovoked attack on Pearl Bailey, who was entertaining American troops in Hawaii. The beloved Broadway star survived but Congress was still mad as heck about it and — led by the Tea Party Caucus — issued a formal declaration bringing the U.S. into the fight.

In Europe, the Germans consolidated their gains. One of their attempts at social engineering during this period was known as the Holocaust. A little-known fact about this awful purge was that not only were Jews targeted and killed, but so were other minority groups, including rednecks and hillbillies. However, it was the Jews that got all the publicity, seein’ as how they controlled the lamestream media.

The tide slowly started to turn against the Axis powers. Hitler and his cronies mistakenly looked to science as an answer to their problems. They began experiments with rocketry and started researchin’ an atomic bomb. They even looked at other possible weapons of mass destruction, including a plot to unleash biological warfare on their enemies. By germin’ their foes, the Germans hoped to regain the upper hand.

Alas, all these plans failed, and it was too late before they realized they should’ve turned to God instead of science.

In 1944, some 67 years ago today, the Americans and British began an invasion of the continent that would come to be known as D-Day. Gen. Dwight Eisenhower, leader of the Allied forces who became a Republican-In-Name-Only president, later wrote about his intentions on that fateful day:

“We were to warn the Germans that we’re already there, that — hey — you’re not gonna succeed,” he wrote in his memoirs. “You’re not gonna take American arms. You’re not gonna beat our own well-armed persons, individual, private militia that we have. I’m gonna be ringin’ those bells and makin’ sure.”

In the Pacific, Gen. Douglas MacArthur was leading the charge to drive the Japanese out of a bunch of islands they had invaded. In the Philippines, which MacArthur had had to abandon several years earlier, he made good on his famous vow of “BRB” (or “be right back”) that he’d posted on his Facebook page. Soon, we were hopscotchin’ across Okinawa and Iwo Jima, headin’ for Japan.

The Germans finally fell in April 1945 when American soldiers disguised as Russians took Berlin. Holed up in his bunker, Hitler had no choice but to commit suicide, even though it’s a sin. Victory in Europe had been achieved!

It took about four months longer for us to knock some sense into the Japanese, which we did by atomic-bombing both the Hiroshimers and the Nagasaki-ites. When they saw the raw power of American ingenuity on display in the poisonous ruins around them, they texted their surrender to Washington.

World War II was over. We were gonna be sure we were gonna be free and we were gonna be armed.

Sarah Palin delivers her history lesson

Fake News: Remembering the Civil War, sort of as it happened

April 13, 2011

In the largest Civil War-era re-enactment ever staged, the entire South has elected conservative white chief executives whose anti-government positions, belief in state’s rights and the maintenance of a permanent underclass closely mirrors the region’s status of 150 years ago.

“On this sesquicentennial of the start of the War of Northern Aggression, we can take pride in looking back over a century and a half to see that — really — not that much has changed,” said Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour. “Blacks and poor whites living in the region are mere pawns in our effort to re-establish a right-wing Confederate States of America that serves only the wealthy, entrenched interests. Yee-haw!”

Barbour, being backed by many arch-conservatives as a potential presidential candidate in 2012, was asked about the large number of written accounts that claim the Union army defeated the Confederates in 1865.

“Hogwash!” the governor said. “Maybe that’s what they say in all those fancy history books written by progressives. But we can see the reality for ourselves. The South has risen again! As soon as we get the proper paperwork in order, we’ll be reinstituting both slavery and a plantation economy that marginalizes 95% of the white population.”

Smaller re-enactments and living history exhibits around the South have focused primarily on individual battles or issues. For example, a group in Charleston, S.C., staged a mock attack of Ft. Sumter early Tuesday. Later this summer, the fateful clash at Gettysburg will be re-imagined as a country music festival. Efforts have begun to plan a re-telling of the Lincoln assassination in 2015, with attempts at recruiting the last Southern liberal to play the slain log-splitter already underway.

“This is a region that takes great pride in its heritage,” said Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who has hinted that his state might be willing to lead the way to a second secession. “We also like to dress up and play soldier and make bang-bang sounds with our guns. So it’s natural that on the anniversary of the conflict that ripped this nation apart at the cost of 600,000 lives, we’re going to pretend like we won. I mean, look at the rednecks controlling state houses all across the old Confederacy — as lily white and reactionary as if Col. Robert E. Lee had developed the atomic bomb in time to avoid the surrender at Appomattox.”

When told that the current list of Republican governors in the South includes two Indian-Americans — Louisiana’s “Bobby” Jindall and South Carolina’s “Nikki” “Haley” — Perry said he counts them as white.

“That Jindall boy is a little on the extra-tan side,” Perry admitted. “But that Nikki, she’s as pale as pale can be.”

“And fine, too,” Barbour added.

Perry, Barbour and several other Southern executives are encouraging their citizens to participate in the anniversary spirit of America’s bloodiest war by attacking any representation of the federal government that they can find.

“Beat up a mailman. Lynch a nurse from the VA hospital. And if you don’t have the stomach to physically assault another human being, just grab a handful of postage stamps and rip ’em up,” Barbour said. “We want this commemoration to be special.”

Still hoping for a royal wedding invitation

April 12, 2011

With the British royal wedding between Prince William and fiancée Kate Middleton only two weeks away, I have somehow failed to receive my invitation. I don’t mean to be pushy or presumptuous, yet I think I have every right to expect one.

Just in case it got lost in the mail — considering the English call this “the post,” I’m thinking it ended up on a telephone poll somewhere — I sent the following reminder to Buckingham Palace earlier today. (I used snail mail in deference to royal protocols against e-mail, which also allowed me to slip a twenty into the envelope in case that can grease the wheels). With this bit of pluck and a bit of luck, I hope to hear back from the Windsors by the weekend, then I’m off to Britain for the social event of 2011!

Dear Queen,

(I know this is probably not the proper way to address you but hope that, rather than being offended that I’m not calling you a “majesty” or a “highness,” you’ll instead be charmed by my bumpkin ways).

I would like to be invited to the upcoming Royal Wedding. I’m not sure who exactly is handling these arrangements so I thought I’d go straight to the top with my request. Feel free to delegate this task to your vice-queen if you’re too busy to see to it personally. I trust Elton John to handle my plea fairly.

I read that the official guest list has come out and I didn’t see my name among the invitees. I hope that this was merely an oversight. If it’s not, let me say right now that being excluded from a group that includes actor Rowan Atkinson (aka, “Mr. Bean” from the horrible movies of the same name), as well as Prince William’s ex-flame and world champion hyphenate Isabella Anstruther-Gough-Calthorpe, and a former Spice Girl, and Kate’s “yoga instructor” (advice to William: wake up and smell the coffee!) is okay by me.

Truthfully, though, I really really really would like to come. I have a number of fine traits that would make me an excellent guest. I am a proficient speaker of the language of your homeland. I spent a week in London in 2006 on business, and found it to be nowhere near as awful as everyone says it is. I was and continue to be a huge Beatles fan. Plus, I’m trying to get into that new “Upstairs Downstairs” series being shown on BBC America; if nothing else, I’ll have it on my TiVo for that day in the not-too-distant future when “American Idol” and “Dancing With the Stars” are finished for the season.

In addition to being probably the biggest Anglophile in my small South Carolina hometown, I am a diligent student of your long and historic history. I am intrigued by a royal family whose lineage extends back into the mists of time, especially considering I can’t even name my own grandfather. I am impressed by the ancient kings known as Ethelred, Athelstan and Egbert, and how they could rule an expansive kingdom while being mercilessly teased about their names. I admire Henry VIII, even in this day when it’s not considered politically correct to chop off your wife’s head. I even like the stuttering king, at least when I could understand what he was saying.

Now I know you modern royals have had your issues, including divorce, infidelity, more divorce, and difficulties in choosing limo drivers who won’t crash into road abutments. But it’s those all-too-human weaknesses that I think have made your family more interesting than most. And I must say that your young grandsons, William and Harvey, have already gone a long way toward erasing memories of some of the recent embarrassments. They appear to be fine young men, even though the younger one looks nothing like the older one (I’m not implying anything, I’m just saying).

If you do invite me to the wedding, I will be willing to pay for my own transportation and I will give a very nice gift, if you or Elton can tell me where the happy couple is registered. I will be well-behaved at the Westminster Abbey ceremony. I won’t stand and object when the minister asks if anybody wants to, I won’t bang on the exterior windows yelling “Kate!” like Dustin Hoffman does at the end of “The Graduate,” and if anyone in the wedding party tries to pull one of those juking-and-jiving processionals like you see on YouTube, I will personally extend my foot into the aisle and trip them.

Please consider my request and get back to me as soon as possible. While I’m sure the pageantry and memories will be priceless, I need to make a reservation with Virgin Atlantic in the next few days if I want to get the best fare. If I miss that window, I can still drive, if I can figure how to negotiate the notorious storms of the North Sea.

Hope to see you on April 29. I know you’ll have your hands full on that busy day — especially considering that two of them will have a death grip on your purse — but if we spy each other across the room, a gracious nod will do.


Davis Whiteman

P.S. For the rehearsal dinner, if the choice is chicken or fish, put me down for the chicken. If it’s chicken or roasted suckling pig, I’d prefer the pork.