DAILY BRIEFINGLong Weekend Bundle
May 28 - It's Memorial Day weekend in the states, meaning many of you who slack off at work by perusing these electric pages won't be around—so I'll take the day off and cover May 31 in today's Almanackal stuff (below). If anything comes up before Tuesday, I'll use it as an excuse to finally add some damn content to Moron Abroad.
I'm trying to communicate the relevance of my Five-Minute Iliad at every possible opportunity these days, as I mentioned on Monday. Toward that end, I'd posted a link to "A Prairie Home Companion's" archives, where the original radio broadcast of "The Six-Minute Iliad" (which actually runs about seven) was posted.
A friendly correspondent wrote in with the following:
NPR has either stopped linking to The 6-Minute Iliad, or your blog has so overwhelmed their bandwith that it broke the link.....I assumed the aforementioned friendly correspondent had been having technical problems of his own, because the link had worked perfectly well for me the other day: I tried it again this morning, figuring I could at least send the friendly correspondent some recommendations once I'd ruled out the unlikely possibility that he was right.
Seriously, I listened the other day and passed the URL on to some other folks. Now none of us can listen, since it comes up FILE NOT FOUND.
But the link really was gone. (It's not that I don't trust friendly correspondents, it's just that I don't really trust anyone. Seriously. Ask my wife. No, don't. Why the hell do you want to talk to her, anyway? What's going on between you?)
I doubt it had anything to do with hypervoluminous traffic from my site that caused the folks in Lake Wobegon to move it, but move it they did. It's now here. (I've updated the link on the May 24 bloggish.) Not only did they move it, but they've completely removed the nice transcript of the piece that used to accompany it. If you visit the archive page covering the October 12, 1996, performance date, you'll see a list of scripts available: "Celebrities: The Six-Minute Iliad" is no longer there, and the only way to see it is to search for it on Google and read the cache (if you don't know what that means, never mind).
* * *
On reflection, I bet they actually did move it in response to the bandwidth you guys consumed—and they probably did it just to spite me. It was probably Keillor himself futzing around with the website. "Damn that Nagan and his evil minions! Time to show 'em how we do things in Lake Wobegon! Bwa-ha-ha-ha! Eat 404 Errors, Nagan!"
(Trust isn't my only issue. But you knew that.)
* * *
You know how sometimes you're eating Chinese food and you feel a little bit of something get caught between a couple of molars, and you think, "man, I can't wait to floss tonight!" And dinner ends, and the night progresses, and you feel the thing in there and you kind of probe it with your tongue to try to extract it, but you can't get at it? You don't freak out or anything, but it becomes this important fact of your night. "Oh yeah... that's the night I had that leek strand stuck in my molars all night."
The same thing can happen with psychological phenomena.
A week or two ago I got a mass email from my high school class. (The class of 1983 held its 20th reunion last fall, so they're all trying to stay in touch.) I was informed that one of our members had been killed in a freak accident. There was a link to a newspaper article. It was terrible: this girl, whom I still picture as 16 or 17 but was by now a 39-year-old wife and mother, had been out jogging with a friend. The two had just split up after their run to walk their separate ways home. A car came along—I imagine a big black 70's Buick with tinted windows— and struck my former classmate. Shortly thereafter she died.
I never knew her very well, although we were a small class. I haven't had a single thought about her since 1983. I read the email and the article and went on with my busy day.
Then I remembered having teased her in junior high school. I didn't remember why, but I telt terrible anyway.
And I can't seem to floss it away.
* * *
One of the benefits of deriving a substantial amount of your income from writing for video games is that video game consoles and the games themselves become tax-deductible (or legitimate business expenses, depending on how you structure your freelancing). Even so, it wasn't until yesterday that I finally bought an X-Box.
There's something wonderful about watching your pregnant wife drive a bright yellow 1985 Renault through the cafes of Paris, tables and chairs and mortally frightened patrons flying in her wake, while pedestrians and onlookers shriek and cower. Or watching her drive 173 mph straight into the Arc de Triomphe, giggling all the while. Or to park my own taxi in the middle of the Champs Elysees so she can get a good running start and smash into me broadsides. . . with more giggles and glee.
There's also something really cool about seeing your own name on the credits to a video game. "Script," it says on the credits page of Hitman Contracts, "Greg Nagan." That gives me a kind of pride my book and radio and theatre work never gave me—a silly pride, but also a cool pride. Books and plays and radio sketches have a certain intellectual appeal, but I've never been especially at home with most intellectuals. The smart kids never liked me (issues!). Now I've got some street cred with the kinds of people I actually spend most of my time with. Woo-hoo!
As part of my work for Io Interactive, or Eidos, or whoever the hell I'm working for on these new games, I need to get myself set up as a private contractor in Denmark. It's not like the blessed states, where you can do pretty much anything as long as you've got a Social Security Number and a creative accountant. No, in Denmark you need to declare yourself a business and set up separate bookkeeping and the whole 8.22 meters.
This requires the filling out and submission of an application in which one has to specify the nature of one's primary business.
Forfætter, I wrote. That means "writer."
Needless to say, the application came back to me in the mail the other day. "Unable to approve this type of business," they told me. "Please try again."
Indignant, I showed the letter to my wife. She giggled. forfætter doesn't actually mean "writer." It means nothing at all—although it looks like "forcousin" in English. A writer is a forfatter.
Strangely enough, however, two telephone calls to the appropriate authority have revealed that it's no easier to register as a writer than it is as a forcousin. They won't allow it. I need to register as some other thing altogether. They don't know what. They'll get back to me.
Have I mentioned what a pleasure it is to work with the Danish bureaucracy?
It's probably easier for other people. I'm almost sure that it is. I know they're just making this as hard as they can on me because they hate my Yankee Doodle ass. Seriously. I can tell just from the way these clerks look at me. They probably have weekly status meetings. Have we screwed Nagan's life up enough this week? How can we make it more difficult? Suggestions?
I'll go work on my issues now. Your regular Almanac stuff follows...
An Uplifting History
Breasts are an important mammalian characteristic. They allow mothers to nurture their young through protracted infancies, and no infancy is longer than that of the human species—especially that of the American male, which often lasts until death. (See above.)
Breasts are more than just feedbags for the young, however. On humans at least, they also have valuable recreational value. Nothing else has the combined nutrition, entertainment, and sheer jiggle value of the human breast (although Jello comes close).
Naturally, men couldn't leave anything with the power, appeal, and nutritive value of breasts in the hands of women, literally or metaphorically. From the very dawn of human history, therefore, breasts have been in men's hands.
In 2500 BC, the Minoan women of Crete are believed to have worn a special garment that lifted their breasts entirely out of their clothing. (Like another popular story of ancient Minos, this is believed to be half bull.) By the rise of the Hellenic (Greek) and Roman (Roman) civilizations, however, women were wearing tightly bound breast bands to reduce their busts. This style persisted until 476 AD, rightly referred to by historians as the Fall of Rome.
As history progressed, the popularity of breasts rose and fell, heaved and plunged, lifted and separated. Each new culture found a new way of exalting or obscuring the breast, according to their inclinations. By the nineteenth century in Europe, breasts were being pressed together and thrust upward by means of whalebone-fortified corsets.
The strain was unbearable. Something had to give.
At last, on May 30, 1889, the world's first bra was invented. (I've lost track of where I found that date, but that's not important. What matters is that I keep talking about breasts until the search engines pay more attention to me.)
Corset maker Herminie Cadolle invented the "Bien-être" in 1889. This "health aid" was the first garment to support breasts from the shoulder down instead of squeezing them up from below.
Marie Tucek patented the first "breast supporter" in 1893. Her innovations included separate pockets for the breasts and over-the-shoulder straps fastened by hook-and-eye closures.
New York socialite Mary Jacob Phelps invented a modern bra in 1913 (with two handkerchiefs, some ribbon, and a bit of cord) to accommodate a sheer evening gown. In 1914, Ms Phelps sold her invention, which she called the brassiere, to the Warner Brothers Corset Company in Bridgeport, Connecticut, for $1500.
The US War Industries Board encouraged the assimilation of the bra in 1917 by encouraging women to stop buying corsets, thereby freeing up for military use the nearly sixty million pounds of metal used in them (collectively, one presumes, although to hear accounts from the period one has to wonder).
During the 1920s, a Russian immigrant by the name of Ida Rosenthal founded Maidenform with her husband William. The Rosenthals classified breasts into cup sizes and developed bras for women of every age.
I've now used the word "breast" enough to titillate the search engines, so we can move on.
The Great Humanitarian
On May 28, 1743, Joseph Ignace Guillotine was born in France. Later he became a doctor. As a politically active humanitarian, he was understandably disturbed by the grisly executions of the French Revolution. He was sure people could be killed more efficiently, and he invented a device to do just that.
His machine sliced the victim's head off by means of a heavy, suspended blade rushing down a pair of siderails onto (or more accurately through) the victim's neck. Not only was it quick and painless: in those dull years before cable, it was also great entertainment. Dr Guillotine enjoyed watching the youngsters scampering playfully about the machine, fighting for the severed head.
During the rough weather that followed the French Revolution (known to meteorologists as "The Rain of Terror") it became necessary to purge the Republic of all obstacles to the welfare of its people. Sadly, most of those obstacles were people themselves, and there were a damned lot of them.
Drunk with power (a lingering effect of the Bourbon era) and armed with Dr Guillotine's new invention, the government succeeded in eliminating thousands of such obstacles quickly and effectively, in a way that made the children laugh and sing right up to the moment that their own heads were sliced off.
Dr Guillotine himself was eventually guillotined, suggesting the possible existence of a moral to his story. (Readers seeking morals, however, are advised as always to conduct their searches elsewhere.)
* * *
Patrick Henry was born on May 29, 1736. Mr Henry was an American patriot best known for never having been able to make up his mind. Asked the simplest question, Mr Henry found himself befuddled for days. It therefore came as no surprise to anyone who knew him when, given the choice between liberty and death, he famously pronounced that either would be welcome. History records his vow at St. John's Church in March of 1775 as "Give me liberty or give me death!" Eyewitnesses and other contemporaries claim he actually said, "Liberty, death, whatever, let's just wrap this thing up."
John F. Kennedy was born on May 29, 1917, and is best remembered for telling Americans they had nothing to fear but fear itself, an axiom that many Americans found problematic in the face of increasing cold war tensions, imminent nuclear war, an escalating presence in Vietnam, the troubled state of race relations, and the ubiquitous threat of poisonous snakes. Born on the same day but several centuries earlier (in 1630), was King Charles II of England, best known for the saying, "Give me back my throne."
It was on May 31 that the lovely young Lady Godiva, aged 17, rode naked on horseback through Coventry, England, to protest the high tax rate established by her own husband, Earl Leofric of Mercia. Her protest worked and he lowered taxes. I strongly endorse this type of civil disobedience, and remind female readers that taxes are pretty high just about everywhere these days, especially here in Denmark.
On May 31, 1902, the Treaty of Vereeniging was signed, canceling the Bore War for lack of interest. (The Bore War should not be confused with the Boar War, which was much more exciting on account of tusks.)
Born on May 27: Henry Kissinger (1923), Hubert Humphrey (1911), Vincent Price (1911), Dashiell Hammett (1894), Isadora Duncan (1878), and Wild Bill Hickock (1837).
Born on May 28: Sir Rudolph Giuliani (1944), Gladys Knight (1944), Ian Fleming (1908), Jim Thorpe (1888), and Joseph Guillotine (1738).
Born on May 29: Annette Bening (1958), Al Unser (1939), John F. Kennedy (1917), T.H. White (1906), Bob Hope (1903), Patrick Henry (1736), and King Charles II, England (1630).
Born on May 30: Wynonna Judd (1964), Benny Goodman (1909), Mel Blanc (1908), and Peter the Great (1672).
Born on May 31: Brooke Shields (1965), Joe Namath (1943), Johnny Paycheck (1941), Clint Eastwood (1930), Fred Allen (1894), Walt Whitman (1819), and King Manuel I of Portugal (1469).
May 27 is Heroes' Day in Uganda.
May 28 is Republic Day in Armenia and Independence Day in Azerbaijan
May 29 is Flag Day in Finland.
May 30 is Anguilla Day in Anguilla, of all places.
May 31 is Independence Day in South Africa.
Enjoy the long weekend!
© 2004, The Moron's Almanac