DAILY BRIEFING
Here Comes the Dark

Oct. 24 - It's been dark lately. Night's been eating away at our mornings for a couple of weeks now. There's no significant light until about 7:15. Daylight Savings begins Saturday night (or Sunday morning, if you're one of those people), which'll bring an hour of morning sun back, but it hardly seems worth the effort. We're heading into the abyss—whether our five hour daily allotment of sunlight begins at nine or ten hardly seems to matter.

I keep trying to make the best of it—stiff upper lip and all the usual Anglo-Yankee twaddle. "I'm much more productive in winter," I tell Danes concerned about my psychological well-being. "I'm sure I'll write more than ever, and wrap up all kinds of projects I've had on the back burner since last winter."

Positive approach, right? The Danes won't have any of it. Regardless of age, sex, or background, they just don't buy it.

"Winter's very depressing," they say. "I barely make it through each winter myself."

Denmark isn't the kind of place where a positive outlook is ordinarily pissed on. The Danes strike me—ironically, I suppose—as a very sunny people. They're energetic, enthusiastic, active. They rise to any challenge and walk away from no dare. They sing at the slightest provocation. And yet these same people tell me over and over again that my optimism is misplaced. They make me feel like I'm standing on the deck of the Titanic insisting the water's not really so cold.

True story: in the winter of 1650 the magnificent Queen Kristina of Sweden summoned Rene Descartes to Stockholm to tutor her in philosophy. With his trademark optimism ("I think warm, therefore I am not cold"), he accepted the invitation and hurried up from Paris. Not long after his arrival, he died of pneumonia.

It's going to get very dark, they tell me, and very cold. Whistling in the dark won't help. Frivolous rationalizations won't help. The cold cannot be negotiated. The dark will not succumb to argument. You must face them head on, or you must—well, I don't know... turn to narcotics or suicide or something.

I'm looking into hashish.

Matchmakers

Mankind was not fully mankind until it learned how to set things on fire. That happened a long time ago and enabled such hallmarks of early civilization as cooked meat, heated homes, and flaming heretics. Only in the past few hundred years has mankind learned how to start fires quickly and easily.

In 1680, Irish scientist Robert Boyle discovered that rubbing phosphorus and sulphur together caused them to burst into flames. Such was his reward for a lifetime spent rubbing phosphorus against things to see what would happen.

In 1827, seizing upon the Irish invention with a zeal usually reserved for Irish real estate, an Englishman named John Walker (no relation) invented "sulphuretted peroxide strikeables," which were like matches except they were three feet long and as likely to explode as ignite.

A variation on this firestarter was introduced in England in 1828. It was called the Promethean, and consisted of a glass bulb of sulphuric acid. The bulb was coated with potassium chlorate, sugar, and gum, then wrapped in a paper spill. To ignite the Promethean, one broke the glass bulb against one's teeth. Dentists loved it, but the public remained wary.

Germans began manufacturing small phosphorus matches in Germany in 1832. Like so many other German inventions, however, these tended to ignite with a series of explosions that spread fire about one's feet. They also exploded when stepped on. This dampened their popularity among the arson-averse public.

Finally, on October 24, 1836, a patent was issued in the United States to Alonzo D. Phillips for the manufacture of friction matches.

Depression

On October 24, 1929, the stock market began a catastrophic collapse that ultimately led to the Great Depression. Scientists around the world desperately sought a cure for the millions of Depressed peoples on every continent. Research eventually demonstrated that the people of Germany, Italy, and Spain were Depressed because their trains didn't run on time, and fascism was invented to address this shortcoming.

Having resolved their train schedules, however, fascists discovered that many people were still unhappy. This was found to have been the result of socialism, which was incompatible with fascism, and persons who failed to become happy were subsequently shot. This caused the Spanish Civil War, which was so successful it inspired World War II, after which everyone felt much better.

* * *

Friday is Monica Lewinsky's birthday. Others blowing out candles on October 24 include Kevin Kline (1947), F. Murray Abraham (1939), David Nelson (1936), Y.A. Tittle (1926), and Moss Hart (1904).

October 24 is United Nations Day at the U.N., Suez Day in Egypt, Labor Day in Palau, and Independence Day in Zambia.

2003, The Moron's Almanac™

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