WEEKEND BRIEFINGCommunism, Salad, Marriage
Apr. 29 - I'm not going to bore you with a lot of braggadocio about winning three out of four Texas Hold 'Em pots last night. But I was damned if I wasn't going to mention it. Mission accomplished.
Communism: Er... Wasn't That a Bad Thing?
Sunday is May Day. That's basically a Communist holiday. I don't know why we celebrate a Communist holiday but ignore all the really good Nazi holidays—maybe Nazism just didn't kill enough people to stake a claim to perpetuity—although I'm sure it's exceeded some religions in that respect, and they get their holidays.
(Hello? Anybody out there? Is there anyone I forgot to insult?)
Some people will tell you May Day is not a Communist holiday. That's like saying Christmas isn't a Christian holiday. You could probably make a few rhetorical points, but it'd be hard to win the argument while Christians kept bragging about their holiday. So until the Communists and Marxists waive their rights, I'll take them at their word. It's a Communist holiday.
And why not? Just think of all the good that Communism has given the world! Seriously. Keep thinking. You'll come up with something eventually. There's has to be something there, because the horrors Communism has visited upon humanity have to be offset by some wondrous accomplishment, somewhere, at some point, to encourage happy shiny people all over the west to wear Che Guevara tee-shirts and coo over his motorcycle adventures.
This is not the direction I intended to move in. I apologize to my Communist friends and readers. I'll suck it up and play nice. Here's the May Day history that I recycle more or less every May Day:
May DayMay Day is celebrated vehemently in Denmark. There's a big rally out in Fælledparken, and over 100,000 are expected to attend this year. (I've heard a lot of Danes complaining about the waning of this old tradition, but most of them are bemoaning the festive atmosphere, not the fading of fiery Marxist rhetoric.) There'll be music, speeches by red and pink politicos, and lots and lots of beer. I'd like to go, and I know Trine will want to, but the idea of navigating a pram through a hundred thousand drunken Viking communists isn't that appealing to me. I guess I am getting older.
May 1 is recognized as May Day pretty much everywhere but the United States, Canada, and South Africa. Modern May Day celebrations throughout the world typically feature huge outdoor gatherings of people, brightly colored signs and banners, and a whole lot of tear gas.
The holiday has its root in the American labor movement of the 1880s, specifically the Haymarket tragedy of 1886. Depending on whom you ask, the Haymarket tragedy was either caused by overzealous cops with way too many guns, or overzealous anarchists with way too many bombs (i.e., one).
Actually, it no longer matters whom you ask, because all eyewitnesses would give you pretty much the same answer (i.e., none—they're dead).
Either way, nervous, well-armed cops and edgy, bomb-throwing anarchists are not a combination one encounters often in the annals of the Nobel Peace Prize. As a result, Americans ignore May Day and instead celebrate Labor Day, which features plenty of beer and barbecues and very little tear gas. We may be complacent, but dammit, we know what to do with a steak.
Of course, there are other events all over the city and nation. How about a morning coffee and some "Anti Capitalist" songs with the Socialist Youth International? Or head to Israel Plads at noon to catch the "EuroMayDay" demonstration, which promises lots of disaffected workers agitating for "mere fritid, mere frihed og flere penge." (More free time, more freedom, and more money.)
Here's a street poster from the Socialists for their demonstration at Blågårds Plads:
Here's a close-up of their platform:
"No the the EU Constitution! The world is bigger than the EU! No to the Black School, stop Haarder! Danish troops out of Iraq — now!" And so on. (No, I don't know what the Black School is.)
It's not that you don't see this kind of stuff in the states, it's just that fiery calls to action like this one tend not to get much traction in the mainstream. Which is hard to believe, because the organizer is calling for solidarity with, "immigrants workers," "women," "lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans people," "the people of the Middle East, Asia, Africa, Latin America, and the Caribbean who are resisting U.S. imperialism's drive to own and exploit them," and "all of the progressive movements." Straight, white non-progressive American, European, and Australian males are the only ones excluded from this solidarity—and I'll bet you just about anything the movement's core membership is a bunch of straight white guys with suburban American backgrounds. Not that there's anything wrong with that: some of my favorite people are straight white American guys with suburban backgrounds.
I've digressed again.
Someone needs to explain the post-Cold War appeal of Communism and Socialism to me. I understand the appeal of western leftism generally, because although I disagree with their proposed means I certainly concur with the ends they seek: a better, safer, happier life for all of us, with liberty and justice for all. But Communism and Socialism—are these words just being used as code for something else? How can intelligent people still get behind the only ideology that's killed more people than Nazism—I mean, National Socialism?
You've got to be bonkers to think the wrong side won the Cold War. To think Stalinism superior to representative democracy (however flawed). To think the Stasi were a model law enforcement organization. Why are we always reading about citizens of Communist dictatorships risking their lives to escape their utopias, but never about citizens of capitalist democracies risking it all for a chance at a fresh start in Cuba or North Korea?
One more time: I'm not knocking leftism generally. I'm knocking Communism and Socialism specifically. They're bad ideas that had their chance and need to be discarded for ever. I sort of expect unanimous agreement to that notion, with everyone nodding their heads in agreement or yawning at the superfluity of the observation, as they hopefully would if I had said, "Nazi Germany was a pretty good example of social organization models not to emulate."
Why is Che cool, and Goebbels square? Because Che was enslaving homosexuals and other "deviants" out of love for common ownership, whereas Goebbels was doing it out of twisted Teutonic pride? Or what?
Sorry for the tedium. I just don't get it.
Happy May Day.
* * *
Speaking of Communists and May Day, on May 1, 1961, Cuban leader Fidel Castro decided things were going along so well that he absolved the Cuban people of ever having to go through all the bother of another election.
Viva la revolucion, baby!
The Sanctity of Marriage
On April 29, 1945, Adolf Hitler married Eva Braun. The very next day she killed herself. So did he. This demonstrates the importance of not rushing into marriage. You've got to take your time, get to know the other person, and really think it through. Especially if the other person happens to be an Evil Bastard at the head of a hellish genocidal war machine on the brink of defeat.
It's not enough just making sure your intended isn't a war-criminal-in-training. The sad truth is that if you plan to marry a human being you're in for a pretty bumpy road no matter what—which isn't to say it would be all roses if you married something other than a human.
My own first marriage, for example, failed for many reasons, youth and stupidity among them. Youth and stupidity are leading contributors to many of the world's woes; it's almost as perilous a combination as age and experience.
So maybe Adolf and Eva were doomed anyway. Who knows? I'm only saying they should have given it a little more thought. Bunker marriages have a notorious failure rate.
Actually, in the United States today, all marriages have a notorious failure rate. So maybe the best advice comes from Homer Simpson: "Never try anything."
Say what you will about the man—he's still married.
Forget all this crap about politics. May Day is important because it marks the beginning of May. Spring is in full bloom. Tender blossoms exude their sweet fragrance as winter's frosts recede. The warming air and diaphanous mists incite the passions and thoughts turn naturally to the ardor of spring—to love, rebirth, renewal, and salad.
You may not have known it, but in the United States May is National Salad Month. By an astonishing coincidence, the second full week of May is National Herb Week. It's a time to celebrate the verdure of the earth with verdure on a plate. Or in a bowl—salad is just that versatile!
Salad has a long and noble history. The word itself comes from the Latin "herba salta," which sounds like "urban assault" but actually means "salted herbs." They called their salads salted herbs because that's what they were: bits of leafy herbs dressed with salty oils.
The Romans weren't the first people to enjoy salad. Though it's hard to imagine, people were eating herbs and vegetables long before the invention of salad forks. Many of our evolutionary forebears ate leaves and veggies right off the plants, vines, and trees on which they grew. In fact, scientists believe our ancient grazing tendencies may explain the popularity of salad bars and our willingness to overlook the inadequacy of most sneeze guards.
The salad was not perfected, however, until the development of Bac-O Bits®, a genetically altered bacon substitute whose artificial bacon flavor and resistance to radiation have made it a staple of American salads, to say nothing of its cult popularity as driveway gravel.
According to the Association for Dressings and Sauces, the altruistic sponsors of National Salad Month, salad dressings and sauces have a history as rich and varied as salad itself. The Chinese have been using soy sauce for over five thousand years, the Babylonians used oil and vinegar, and Worcestershire was popular in Caesar's day. (Ironically, however, the Caesar salad was not invented by Julius Caesar. It wasn't even invented by Sid Caesar. It was invented by Caesar Cardini, a Mexican restauranteur, in 1924.)
The Egyptians favored oil and vinegar mixed with Oriental spices. Mayonnaise was invented by the Duke de Richelieu in 1756 after defeating the British at Port Mahon on Majorca (hence "Mahonnaise," later corrected to mayonnaise). The Duke was best known not for his military victories, however, but his all-nude dinner parties. I'm not going to speculate as to how a bunch of naked people got the idea of covering their salads in a creamy sauce.
(Around this time each year, well meaning but extremely annoying busybodies feel compelled to warn us about the dangers of mayonnaise exposed to the open air; happily, the good people at the Association of Dressings and Sauces have provided a streaming (RealMedia) online mayonnaise safety video.)
In 1896, Joe Marzetti of Columbus, Ohio, opened a restaurant and served his customers a variety of dressings developed from old country recipes. His restaurant might have done better if he had served them actual meals, but his dressings became so popular that he started to bottle and sell them.
It was the birth of a market niche.
Half a century later, in 1950, Americans bought 6.3 million gallons of salad dressing. In 1997, they bought more than 60 million gallons. (This information is indisputable, because it appears on the Association of Dressings and Sauces's website.)
Since the United States had a population of about 260 million in 1997, it looks like the average American buys about 4.3 gallons of salad dressing each year. That's enough to drip a tablespoon per mile from New York to Chicago. I myself don't buy salad dressing, which means that some poor bastard has to buy 8.6 gallons each year to make up the difference. But it all comes out in the wash: I'm probably drinking his whiskey.
It's informative to note, however, that the Association of Dressings and Sauces measures salad dressing sold, not consumed. We've all seen salad dressing in the final stages of decomposition, the once creamy sauce crusting around the edges and congealing in the bottom of the bottle. Added up nationwide, that's got to be a few million gallons a year.
So it's not like we're pigs or anything.
National Salad Month comes but once a year, but celebrated correctly once should be enough.
Carnivorous readers disinclined to celebrate National Salad Month can choose from any of the following celebrations, all of which last the entire month of May: Allergy and Asthma Awareness Month, Arthritis Month, Better Hearing and Speech Month, Better Sleep Month, Breathe Easy Month, Correct Posture Month, Digestive Diseases Awareness Month, Hepatitis Awareness Month, High Blood Pressure Month, Huntington's Disease Awareness Month, Melanoma/Skin Cancer Detection and Prevention Month, Mental Health Month, National Barbeque Month, National Bike Month, National Egg Month, National High Blood Pressure Education Month, National Photo Month, National Physical Fitness and Sports Month, Neurofibromatosis Month, Older Americans Month, Osteoporosis Prevention Month, Sight-Saving Month, Stroke Awareness Month, Tuberous Sclerosis Awareness Month, and Trauma Awareness Month.
Those who like their celebrations a little shorter can choose from the following, all of which take place on the first full week of May: Be Kind to Animals Week, Goodwill Industries Week, National Family Week, National Pet Week, National Postcard Week, PTA Teacher Appreciation, and Small Business Week.
The second full week of May is not only National Herb Week, but also Nurses Week, Hospital Week, National Tourism Week, and National Historic Preservation Week.
Furthermore, May 3 is International Tuba Day, May 12 is Limerick Day, May 13 is Astronomy Day, and May 16 is Biographers' Day.
Think how many birds you could kill with one stone by taking a picture of yourself riding a bike cross country under the stars while playing the tuba and juggling barbecued eggs, accompanied by a few nurses, teachers, biographers, pets, and tourists—especially if you're a stuttering old traumatized lunatic with indigestion and good posture.
So if you can't find something to celebrate next month, you're just not trying.
That Sinking Feeling
On May 1, 1915, a thoughtful German government took out advertisements warning anyone on ships flying British flags that they did so at their own risk. That very day, the oceanliner Lusitania left New York, flying a British flag.
You do the math.
Birthdays, Holidays, and All That Stuff
Jerry Seinfeld turns 51 on April 29. He shares his birthday with Andre Agassi (1970), Uma Thurman (1970), Michelle Pfeiffer (1957), Daniel Day-Lewis (1957), Dale Earnhardt (1951), Duke Ellington (1899), and William Randolph Hearst (1863).
Willie Nelson turns 72 on April 30. He shares his birthday with Kirsten Dunst (1982), Isiah Thomas (1961), Jill Clayburgh (1944), Burt Young (1940), Cloris Leachman (1926), and Eve Arden (1908).
Kate Smith would have been 96 on May 1, which is also the birthday of Rita Coolidge (1945), Judy Collins (1939), Terry Southern (1924), Jack Paar (1918), and Glenn Ford (1916).
April 29 is Greenery Day in Japan and Remembrance Day in Israel.
April 30 is the Queen's Birthday in the Netherlands, Walpurgis Night in Sweden, and Saigon Liberation Day in Vietnam.
May 1 is not only May Day, but also the Pagan holiday of Beltane, Flag Day in Austria, Patriots Victory Day in Ethiopia, and Constitution Day in the Marshall Islands.
Enjoy the weekend!
© 2005, The Moron's Almanac