Spatchcock! Gesundheit…

The turkey is a truly noble bird. Native american, a source of sustenance to our original settlers, and an incredibly brave fellow who wouldn’t flinch from attacking a whole regiment of Englishmen single-handedly! Therefore, the national bird of America is going to be…
–Ben Franklin from the musical, 1776

Are turkeys noble? Or are they silly, vain and colossally stupid? Is their meat sleep-inducing?  Do they come from Turkey? And did the pilgrims really eat them on the First Thanksgiving?

Let’s sort myth from facts as we look forward with Great Anticipation to the big Eats and Dysfunctional Family Show, the Slidin’ into the Holidays, the Day before Black Friday, known in these United States as Thanksgiving.

First of all, Ben Franklin’s line from the musical 1776 is a mishmosh of truth and exaggeration. Franklin did write that the new nation might be better represented by a turkey than an eagle, which he did describe as a thief and a coward, a bird of mischief rather than nobility. In looking at early artwork of the national seal, he said the drawing looked more like a turkey than an eagle. He went on to laud the bravery of our native birds in facing down the British, though he called them “silly and vain” rather than noble. Whether they were brave, near-sighted, kamikaze, or just plain stupid is something history will never know. Continue reading “Spatchcock! Gesundheit…”

It’s the Great Pumpkin, People!

Jack be Nimble
Jack be Quick
Jack’s been carving candlesticks
and putting them in hollowed out vegetables for about 300 years

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Origins of Jack o’ the Lantern
Of course, there aren’t any pumpkins in Scotland and Ireland which started the tradition of putting candlesticks in food. This lighting practice originated in turnips which are plentiful and easier to grow in the resistant soil. The jack o’ the lantern carving was reminiscent of the lights that appeared in peat bogs which represented spirits of the dead (like Gollum says, don’t look at the lights). Jack of the Lantern was also the name of a story  about an Anglo-Saxon trickster, a character who might fool the devil or fairies through cleverness rather than through strength or hard work. The same character ends up climbing beanstalks, killing giants, spreading frost, and sticking his thumb into pies.

Pumpkins are native to America, so the early colonists shifted the idea of carving to the vegetable at hand. Soon enough, we not only had jack o’ lanterns in these United States, but we had stories about pumpkin-heads from Washington Irving (1820) and L. Frank Baum (1929). Halloween as a holiday expanded and changed – with a little help from capitalism – to the major event it is today, an event which now other countries are adopting.

Halloween Then and Now
The Halloween as we know it emerged from four elements:

  • A celebration of spirits of the dead or spirits in general
  • Donning costumes to act out plays, sometimes called “mumming” and sometimes carried on by troupes traveling house to house
  • A celebration of the trickster, especially one who tricks the spirits or the devil
  • Horror and Halloween in stories, arising out of a Gothic tradition but proliferating in the United States, especially through film

Continue reading “It’s the Great Pumpkin, People!”

Do Not Go Gentle Away from that Frenzy

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This past Monday, September 19, the Japanese celebrated Respect for the Aged day.  It is called “keiro-no-hi,” chosen as the third Monday in September.  The celebration recommends sharing a special meal for the elderly, providing perhaps a musical presentation, and giving presents. The ecommerce website Rakuten, for example, suggests giving a kumquat tree or a hydrangea wreath.

The older I get, the more it seems we need this day. In America, we celebrate holidays that glorify the military, the labor force, religion, harvest, love, our country, our country’s dead presidents, our country’s dead inspirational leaders, the change of the season and the calendar—as well as the day that people are born. But we have no celebration aimed at the 1/6 of our population who are the wise elders. We celebrate “Grandparents,” but as an event the way that we celebrate “Secretaries” or “Administrative People” – primarily as a limited commercial boon for florists and card shops. We don’t respect the aging. We don’t celebrate getting older – we run and hide from it. Continue reading “Do Not Go Gentle Away from that Frenzy”

Einstein and Toast

The numbers on a toaster indicate duration of toasting in minutes, and not a “degree of toastiness.”—Albert Einstein

False rumors seem to happen more frequently and get sillier these days. Maybe our dependence on social media causes it; maybe our “too busy to look things up” lifestyle. It seems at times like we’re being homeschooled by the neighbors. Like we’re at a backyard barbecue at our cousin’s, and as we’re waiting for a burger, some strange guy with a half drunk beer and a twinkle in his eye — or gal, ignorance is not a gender-based phenomenon — steps up, says, “did you know…?” and proceeds to feed us a load of malarkey. And we buy it.

The political season is rampant with half-truths, innuendo, and plain boldfaced lies. But even strange rumors are created about everyday topics and quotations routinely misrepresented. In this Information Age, when the correct information is a few mouse-clicks away, the wrong information is available and deployed even faster. The truth is at our fingertips but the lies are jumping in the way.

As Einstein did not say…
People are fond of quoting smart people. An idea can carry more authority if delivered by a knowledgeable figure rather than li’l ol’ us. As a result, quotes are frequently misattributed to smart and clever people, especially to Lincoln, Twain, Franklin, and, most of all, Einstein. If you look at the site BrainyQuotes.com, they have an entire Einstein page and a good portion of those quotes appear to be things Einstein did not say. Continue reading “Einstein and Toast”

Medal Counts — Bogus and Real

I’m as big a supporter of national pride as anyone, but the constant blaring of Olympic Medal Counts reminds me of that phrase “ugly American.” Since we fielded the biggest team by about 20%, and devote massive resources to sports, the statistic seems pretty crass. Raw volume numbers under those conditions are rarely a reflection of anything beyond size. I wondered whether there might be more fair ways to address medal performance.

As of Tuesday, the U.S. had won 85 medals, 28 gold. But how about if we adjust for the number of athletes, population, or resources? Numbers people would want to know these things. Craig Nevill-Manning has created a lovely site, medalspercapita.com, which did much of this work for me.

Medals Per…
When you start looking on an adjusted basis, small countries—with a small denominator—pop up at the top. (Also, note that a weighted medal count, with points for medal type, is most useful). Grenada with its one medal, a silver by the amazing Kirani James, leads with that one medal in medals per capita, per team size, and per GDP. Kirani won the 400 in London and was heavily favored; in one of the great races of these games, Wayde van Niekierk of South Africa blazed ahead of him and former Beijing champion LaShawn Merritt in world-record time, the only medal ever won by a runner in the outside lane, unable to see anyone behind him the entire race. James’s silver medal puts Grenada “tops” in several medal counts, when adjusted for size. Continue reading “Medal Counts — Bogus and Real”