Monday, June 19, 2017
In 1856, on the floor of the U.S. Senate, South Carolina Representative Preston Brooks beat Massachusetts Senator Charles Sumner nearly to death. He broke his cane to pieces on Sumner’s head. Sumner, a radical abolitionist, had recently made an anti-slavery speech that Brooks found offensive. Sumner suffered head injuries that plagued him the rest of his life; Brooks was fined $300 and received dozens of replacement canes from supporters. Sumner came back and kept talking. He said, “Say, sir, in your madness, that you own the sun, the stars, the moon; but do not say that you own a man.”
Monday, June 12, 2017
In movies, gunshots often cause something called a “flesh wound,” which is no big deal although it really smarts. This can’t be right. Neither is the next step, which is finding a very drunk doctor and making him drink a pot of piping hot coffee so he can dig out the bullet. Having experienced the effects of alcohol and caffeine, I can report that they do not in combination qualify one to perform shade tree surgery. Could the movies be wrong? Will we not in our blasted and arid post-apocalyptic future be somehow motivated to wear goggles and fingerless gloves?
Monday, June 5, 2017
“Plumbum” sounds like slightly naughty term of affection. It’s not, though; it’s Latin for the element lead. Pliny the Elder named some flowers Plumbago, maybe because the white dust on the leaves reminded him of white lead, a terrific but poisonous pigment. Plumbago is also an archaic word for graphite, which looked like lead ore to the folks who mined it in Seathwaite, England. They first used it to mark sheep, an early pre-subway form of graffiti. But there’s never been any lead in pencils. There’s plenty in water pipes, though, so the folks who fix them are called plumbers.
Monday, May 29, 2017
I’ve never enjoyed anything with the word “gym” in front of it. Gym class, along with gym teachers, did not appeal to me at all. They demanded a lot of unnecessary movement, while the outside world offered a treasure trove of sedentary occupations involving Mad magazine and Milk Duds. And gym class tended to provoke more breathing in one class period than I liked to do in an entire day. I believe that building upper body strength can shift one’s center of gravity, leading to potentially hazardous instability. Anyway, who wants broad shoulders? They make your head look so small.
Monday, May 22, 2017
On January 1, 1802, the town of Cheshire, Massachusetts presented President Thomas Jefferson with a 1,234 pound cheese, known as “The Cheshire Mammoth Cheese.” It was engraved with the motto “Rebellion to tyrants is obedience to God,” and came with a letter certifying that “the cheese was procured by the personal labor of freeborn farmers with the voluntary and cheerful aid of their wives and daughters, without the assistance of a single slave.” That’s what America once was and God willing, can be again. Free cheese. Free people. Grandiose and looney gestures that actually make absolutely no sense at all.
Monday, May 15, 2017
You’re walking home from the tavern. You have enjoyed as much Pabst Blue Ribbon as you can possibly contain. The quickest way home is across the park, right over the Little League diamond. It’s dark. There’s a small cinderblock equipment shed, and you’re passing right behind it. Hm. This is probably a good place to urinate. Definitely. So okay, stand at the wall and – wait – is that a flashlight? Is it pointed directly at your crotchal region? Yeah. It’s the security guard, who was standing in front of the little building. Next time, walk once around. Loop before you leak.
Monday, May 8, 2017
Vitamin B12 is an important nutrient, abundant in meat, fish, eggs, and dairy. Rabbits are vegans, and they have evolved a strategy for getting enough B12. There are bacteria in the large intestine that excrete the vitamin, but that’s too far down the alimentary canal for effective absorption. So bunnies eat their own poop, accepting halitosis as the cost of avoiding a dietary deficiency. Hence the phrase “hare's breath escape.” Feces is a rich source of B12. It’s good to know that even with the excellent health care their high office affords them, House Republicans are still taking their supplements.