DAILY BRIEFINGMoronic Symposium
Jun. 4 - I've been absorbed by the classical world since the moment I turned onto Greek and Roman mythology in 4th or 5th grade. This innocent enthusiasm cost me four years of fruitless Latin study in high school and countless headaches in college, but has stayed with me all the same.
One of the aspects of the classical world that always appealed to me was their love of eloquence. I make no claims to eloquence myself—if I could truly speak or write eloquently I wouldn't do either half so much—but I admire eloquence. I was never half as impressed by Cicero or Plato, however, as I was by the fact that their civilizations were sensible enough to value and preserve their words for us. If Cicero ran for Congress today, I'm sure he'd be laughed out of his district—and probably sued.
I also love a good argument. I don't mean an argument in the modern sense of talking heads calling each other names on cable news shows, or movie antagonists making their rhetorical cases by means of bullets, blades, and baseball bats, but in the classical sense. I'm sure that now and then Socrates probably hauled off and popped one of his idiot students in the nose, but by and large, if Plato is to be believed (and, alas, he's probably not), by and large the Academy has always struck me as the kind of place I'd love to be. To argue coolly and rationally with my peers in the hopes of uncovering the truth of a given question—dorky as it sounds, it always had enormous appeal to me. I was actually excited by the news a few years ago that archeologists thought they may have uncovered the remains of Aristotle's Lyceum. It immediately went to the top of my "places to visit" list. (No, I don't really have a list.)
All of this came rushing back to me yesterday under curious circumstances. It was a gorgeous day here in Copenhagen, so our Studieskolen teacher suggested we take our class out in King's Garden, the park around Rosenborg Castle. We found ourselves a cozy little corner that offered equal parts shade and sun then got to work.
Just as I had read and given a report on Tor Rejser last week, this week a group of students gave a report on another little Danish-for-foreigners book. This one was more or less Romeo and Juliet, except it had a happy ending. The Montagues (Romeo's family) were in this case Arabic immigrants to Denmark, and the Capulets (Juliet's family) were ordinary Danes.
Our teacher began leading a discussion of some of the ethnic, racial, and religious tensions in here Denmark. Hell, why be coy: she talked about the problems being caused by the current wave of Arabic immigration—not just the problems caused to the Danes of Denmark, but to the immigrants themselves. There was ample prejudice on both sides. She asked us to consider the prejudices of the fictional fathers in the story we'd been talking about. "It's easy to say both men are stupid and they're opposing their children's happiness out of pigheaded bigotry," she explained (in Danish), but try to look at their points of view and see where those notions come from.
We began discussing the story in very specific terms at first, but soon it evolved into a broader discussion of prejudices, immigration, and certain well-documented problems within the Islamic community. It was a broad and philosophical discussion we were having there in the park, the ten of us citizens from nine different countries, and I couldn't help but thinking of the olive and fig groves of Athens, of Socrates trying to help his pupils find their way to the truth.
"How very classical and worldly this is!" I told myself, feeling wonderful and clever and wise. That's when I really started listening to what was being said, by myself as well as others. Here's a transcript of our Platonic dialogue as it would have sounded to a Dane:
"Prejudice is bad."
"It is not good."
"Some people have ideas that are not so good."
"No, yes, they are bad."
"Sometimes people like the old days."
"They want like it's the time before."
"Do you mean the old days?"
"The old days! Yes, naturally, so believe I."
"Yes, it is not much prejudice now. Not with the youth."
"No, you are right, it is good you say that."
"What did she say?"
"She said there is not so much prejudice in the youth."
"Do the peoples have prejudice against youth?"
"No, youth doesn't have prejudice so much as old people."
"Ah, no, yes, I understand."
"Do you understand?"
"Yes, I now do understand."
"I am not understanding."
"What are you not understanding?"
"Why are old people have prejudice in the young?"
So it wasn't the Academy after all. Was that really so bad? I bet they didn't have all those Danish babes sunbathing around them back in Athens, so where would I really rather be? Is there so much appeal in the idea of getting a rhetorical mugging from a waddling old pederast in a world without single-malt whiskey?
Lousy Socrates. . .
We enter Week 30 today, meaning we're 77 days away from our daughter's arrival. We've finally decided on a pram—Emmaljunga's "Big Star Supreme"—and have moved on to contemplation of car seats, diaper management, and so on.
The Literature informs us that the Bean weighs about three pounds now, which is almost entirely irrelevant since she's a little Eurobaby and can therefore only be measured in kilos. She's about one-and-a-half of those.
Her movements are frequent, strong, and extremely disturbing. I speak for myself, obviously. The DMG giggles and chats with the Bean whenever she feels her wriggling around. She can't feel enough movement. She calls me over to her during any especially dramatic episodes and places my hand on her abdomen—then pulls it away, yells at me for having such cold hands, and tells me to warm them up. I rub my palms together until blisters begin to form, then try again. I feel every wriggle, every kick, every stretch. It's astonishing to the point of horror. I can't leave my hand there for long because the idea of a live human being dwelling inside the DMG just plain freaks me out. When I tell people my baby's movements freak me out they nod sagely. "Yes, yes," they say, "a lot of first-time fathers feel that way. But it's part of nature, it's beautiful."
Nature isn't beautiful. Nature is nasty. Animals stalk each other, kill each other, devour each other. Nature includes tornadoes, earthquakes, lightning, and poisonous snakes. A sunset over the ocean may appear beautiful, but only if you put thoughts of ultraviolet rays and tsunamis, among other horrors, out of mind.
So a little person wriggling around in my wife's belly may be natural, but that doesn't mean it's not a horror.
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I finally got my X-Box connected to X-Box Live and played a few games with random strangers from around the world last night. I'll try to write more about that in Moron Abroad this weekend. Meanwhile, your regular weekend Almanac awaits...
Mysterious Men with Rocks
The Freemasons were officially founded in London on May 4, 1717.
The Freemasons are not a secret society of assassins. They do not have Cesar Borgia's head preserved in an urn. They were not responsible for the French Revolution. They did not kidnap Anastasia Romanov. They are not in control of the Hale-Bopp comet. They did not invent horseradish.
They were masters of masonry, however, and they ushered in a golden age of making things out of rocks.
Freemasons first appeared in England and Scotland in the 1300s, not long after the first appearance of the Loch Ness monster but well before the advent of crop circles. Most laborers of the era were villains and therefore prohibited from travel; since most stone masonry projects (such as cathedrals, churches, and big piles of rocks) required specialized training and large numbers of workers, however, stone masons were permitted to travel freely. They became known as freemasons; their curious lunchboxes came to be known as mason jars.
Whenever the freemasons arrived in town to start work on a new project, they set up a common area where they could meet one another, receive their pay, get food, train apprentices, rest, and get roaring drunk. These came to be known as lodges.
As the centuries passed, the freemasons did less and less work with rocks and more and more drinking at lodges. Today, the freemasons are a friendly social organization with a secret handshake, and are therefore believed to be responsible for selling out the governments of the world to an invading extraterrestrial army.
June 5 is Constitution Day in Denmark. It may well be the only Danish holiday that doesn't spontaneously generate a Monday off when falling on a weekend.
Danmarks Riges Grundlov ("The Constitutional Act of the Kingdom of Denmark") is fifty-one years old today. It was signed on June 5, 1953. It eliminated one house of the Danish parliament, removed all but ceremonial powers from the royal family, and established Legos as the national currency.
For more information about the Danish consitution, click here.
Wrestling His Way to the Top
Doroteo Arango was born to a family of share-cropping pheasants in Durango, Mexico, on June 5, 1878. One day when he was sixteen he came back from work in the pheasant fields to find that his sister had been raped by the owner of the hacienda, Don Agustin Negrete. Doreteo killed Don Agustin and fled into the hills.
In the hills he met and joined forces with a gang of cattle wrestlers. Doroteo was a good wrestler, a natural. He was sure he had found his career.
The leader of his new gang was a man named Francisco "Pancho" Villa. Pancho was passionate about cattle wrestling. He taught young Doroteo everything he knew. One day the gang was ambushed by a Mexican possum and Pancho was killed in the skirmish.
Young Doroteo changed his own name to Francisco "Pancho" Villa and became the gang's new leader.
The new and improved Pancho gradually diversified the operations of his gang. They were still some of Mexico's most-feared cattle wrestlers, but they also branched out into banditry, railroad contracting, and relationship counseling.
When the Mexican Revolution broke out in 1910, Pancho was recruited by the leader of the revolution. He was made a general and put in charge of conducting the war in northern Mexico. Everyone loved him except for the people he killed, who had mixed feelings, and the cattle, who welcomed the respite from wrestling but still hated their nemesis.
One day in 1916 a shipment of arms that Pancho had ordered from an American merchant didn't arrive. In retalitation Pancho raided the town of Columbus, New Mexico. During the raid he seized many American arms and a fair number of legs. This irritated the Americans, who preferred to minimize the distance between their limbs and their bodies, so General Pershing was sent to chase Pancho into Mexico.
Pershing chased Pancho throughout the Chihuahuas. It was a difficult chase, which comes as no surprise to anyone who's ever had to make their way through a herd of Chihuahuas, and consequently Pershing never found Villa. Eventually had to issue the telegraph, "Villa is everywhere, but Villa is nowhere," which made no sense and is therefore famous.
The war ended in 1920 and three years later Villa was killed by an unknown assassin while driving through Parral. His death marked the end of the golden age of cattle wrestling.
On June 6, 1755, a boy was born in Coventry, Connecticut. He grew up, went to Yale, and became a teacher. He never distinguished himself in any way. He never wrote or said anything of note, never committed any famous or infamous deeds, never married or had children. He seemed destined to be swallowed whole by the omnivorous mouth of obscurity. He was therefore recruited by the United States Military as an intelligence agent, dispatched behind enemy lines in British-occupied Manhattan, and captured.
He was hanged by the British on September 22, 1776.
Moments before his execution, he expressed regret that he couldn't be hanged more than once. This remark catapulted him to posthumous fame (but only after his death), and Nathan Hale is revered to this day.
* * *
Sixty years ago June 6 was D-Day, the day of the allied invasion of Normandy, which was called Operation Overlord. The military calls the date of every major operation D-Day, probably to confuse the enemy. This would have been especially confusing in Normandy, which is in France, where Day begins with a J. German spies were probably waiting to hear something about J-Day.
Birthdays and Holidays
May 4 is the birthday of Dr. Ruth (1928), Dennis Weaver (1924) and England's King George III (1738).
May 4 is Flag Day in Panama and Emancipation Day in Tonga.
(nb. The capital of Tonga, which enjoys one of the highest literacy rates in the world, is Nuku'alofa. It's interesting to speculate what a less literate people might have called their capital.)
Pancho Villa shares his June 5 birthday with Marky Mark (1971), Ken Follett (1949), Bill Moyers (1934), and Samuel Adams (1722).
June 5 is Apostles Day in the Czech Republic, Flag Day in Turkey, and World Environment Day in the United Nations.
June 6 is Flag Day in Sweden, probably because it's Bjorn Borg's birthday (he's 48). It's also the birthday of Sandra Bernhard (1955), Thomas Mann (1875), Alexander Pushkin (1799), the aforementioned Nathan Hale, and Pierre Corneille (1606).
© 2004, The Moron's Almanac