Praising Pranksterism

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Perhaps you heard this story explaining the origin of April Fools’ Day. Prior to the introduction of the Gregorian Calendar in 1582, April 1 marked the beginning of the new year. When Pope Gregory XIII blessed the calendar that would inherit his name, he not only replaced the Julian Calendar, but he simultaneously shifted the start of the new year to January 1. Those who continued to believe the new year started on April 1 were made fun of; hence, the start of April Fools’ Day.

Of course, this may not be the true explanation. For one thing, April Fools’ Day was celebrated in England well in advance of their adoption of the Gregorian Calendar. In addition, this conclusion was not deduced from any hard historical evidence, it was arrived at circumstantially. In fact, the earliest actual reference to April Fool’s Day may have been Chaucer, whose Canterbury Tales (published in 1392) referenced April Fool’s Day in the Nun’s Priests’ Tale. Eloy d’Amerval wrote a poem in 1508 that contains the French phrase “poisson d’avril,” which is the phrase one shouts after pranking someone on April Fool’s Day. Finally, there is the comical poem written by Flemish writer Eduard De Dene entitled “Refrain on errand-day/which is the first of April.” This poem was published in 1561, a generation before the adoption of the Gregorian Calendar.

A professor of history at Boston University who specialized in popular culture by the name of Joseph Boskin offered a more convincing origin story. In 1983, Boskin was in Los Continue Reading “Praising Pranksterism”

God and Calhoun at Yale

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You can tell skilled debaters from amateurs by this simple test: skilled debaters can argue either side of the argument with equal success. It’s why public defenders are often better attorneys than public prosecutors. In most situations, public prosecutors can choose which case to take to court. Given this option, it’s not surprising to see them avoid cases they don’t agree with. Public defenders have no similar choice. They must make a case for the defendant whether they believe that defendant is guilty or not. Unlike private defense attorneys, who may choose not to represent any particular party, public defenders have no right to pick and choose their cases.

It’s easy to see why people sometimes think less of the legal profession. The ability to argue either side of any issue with the same fervor can indicate a certain level of amorality that can make a preacher’s skin crawl. After all, in the court of law, judgment is fungible – the power of a lawyer’s rhetoric can sway it. On the other hand, from the point of view of the pulpit, Continue Reading “God and Calhoun at Yale”

Cuomo’s “Free” Tuition Plan Reveals His Techno-Ignorance

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And away we go… Even before Donald Trump’s Inauguration, the 2020 presidential race has begun.

During last year’s presidential primary sweepstakes, the ever plucky Bernie Sanders (can you call a septuagenarian “plucky?) infamously declared he would abolish all college tuition. Plenty practical folks brushed this Marxist rhetoric aside, but those were the adults in the room. The kids ate it up. (And I wouldn’t doubt the idea appealed to a few of their parents, especially after seeing the burden of the obnoxious levels of debt modern college attendance can require.) Still, no one considered this a serious policy. For any number of reasons, common Continue Reading “Cuomo’s “Free” Tuition Plan Reveals His Techno-Ignorance”

Why I Can No Longer Stand the Buffalo Bills

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After living above the Pizzeria on South Park Avenue in Blasdell, my grandparents moved to Lake Avenue in Orchard Park. It wasn’t more than three miles away, but they decided to go to a new parish, one closer to their new home. Our Lady of Sacred Heart sits on Abbott Road just north of the intersection with Lake Avenue, about a mile away from what would soon become Rich Stadium, home of Western New York’s National Football league team the Buffalo Bills.

At the time the Bills still played their games in downtown Buffalo on a field lovingly referred to as “The Rockpile,” (it was officially known as War Memorial Stadium). However, the team Continue Reading “Why I Can No Longer Stand the Buffalo Bills”

A Christmas Postcard

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classic-christmas-postcardThere’s something about this season that evokes bygone memories. These aren’t sepia toned memories – I’m not that old – they’re more like a mix of warm vibrant colors filmed with a soft lens. In other words, they bring forth feelings both nostalgic and pleasant. Think of a classic Christmas postcard, its snow covered landscape offering the perfect contrast to the brilliant but somehow muted colors surrounding a heartfelt home filled with love and the joy of expectation. This paints the picture of the memories I’m writing about.

Except my memories aren’t make believe. They are very real, although the distant years sometimes make me wonder if the soft lens distorts more than the crisp definitions we’ve become all too accustomed to in the digitized world in which we live. No matter. The price of a slight distortion here and there is well worth the comfort of the inner smile they bring.

Of course these memories, as they do for everyone and almost by definition, come from Continue Reading “A Christmas Postcard”

Dave Snyder and The Alfred Sun Show How to Promote (Civil) Community Discussion

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german-tv-discussion-1251809The role of the media in society has been the subject of debate since before our country’s founding. Such was the oppression of the British government during the pre-Revolutionary era that our Founding Fathers, with great wisdom and foresight, codified “freedom of speech” directly on our Constitution via the first amendment. Through the years “polite society” has continually modified what was considered “proper decorum” when it came to public communication, it’s only been until very recently that our nation has forgotten the corollary of the First Amendment: “I may disagree with you but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it.” In modern times, it’s becoming increasingly accepted to wish death upon those that disagree with you.

The role of the press in maintaining the freedom of speech cannot be understated, and jolly old England appears front and center in this fight. It was Queen Elizabeth I who, in 1585, first created laws to limit the freedom of the press. Here’s the flavor of those laws: Continue Reading “Dave Snyder and The Alfred Sun Show How to Promote (Civil) Community Discussion”

The Annual Thanksgiving Mudbowl

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mudbowl-1434436-1598x1062Bring an old weathered football up to your nose, close your eyes, and take a good whiff. Can you smell it? Do images of sweaty muddied gruff men, caked with sweat and blood, move in slow motion within your brain? Do your muscles tighten in pleasant anticipation at the thought of the gridiron? If so, then congratulations. You are part of a dying breed, a member of a secret society that long ago closed its doors to new applicants.

Well, not exactly. Those doors  remain open today and they will forever stay open. It’s just that, in an era of prefabricated microwave cooking, no one wants to go through the Continue Reading “The Annual Thanksgiving Mudbowl”

Here’s What I Learned When I was a Professional Political Pollster

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agreement-survey-scale-1-1236335-660x395Imagine being a physics and astronomy major at a school interested in politics and government where the most popular major is political science and economics. It’s tough. You can’t engage in discussions, you can only listen. You know nothing, unless the conversation turns towards nuclear energy policy (which it almost never does) or space exploration (which it doesn’t ever).

That was me heading into the 1980 presidential primary season. I was nothing more than a naïve cheerleader. I wanted to be more, but what? In an ocean of future neo-cons, think tank thinkers, and government policy makers, I was merely a small deserted isle that didn’t even merit a place on the map. I tried and tried to think of a way I could add value, to discover something in one of the classes I took that would generate at least interest, if not respect, among my more politically knowledgeable classmates. About the only unique differentiator I offered was that I had lived in Jack Kemp’s congressional district, but that was just a novelty of coincidence.

Then it struck me. While all these talking heads spent their class time debating the merits Continue Reading “Here’s What I Learned When I was a Professional Political Pollster”

The Soul of the Machine

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blue-computer-1472956The group of more than a dozen met at a row of tables by the windows towards the back of the Pinehurst dining room. It was the early 1990s, and most businesses by then had discovered the most profitable way to increase productivity meant equipping its employees with personal computers. Spreadsheets, word processing, and this new thing called “PowerPoint” became the standard. Employers, though, had one challenge – they were ill-prepared to train their employees. It was one of those “old dog – new tricks” conundrums.

So the HFL Board of Education decided the best way the school district could add value to Continue Reading “The Soul of the Machine”

Are You a Loyalist or A Rebel?

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img_3810On a late Winter morning in 1775, William French woke up for the last time. The lively 22 year old lived in the Town of Bennington, a municipality only five years older than the young adult. Self-named by Benning Wentworth, Governor of New Hampshire, the small hamlet lie on the west side of the Connecticut River, nestled in the broad curve of the oxbowing waterway in the fertile eastern valley beneath the Green Mountains. French walked that afternoon of March 13th along King’s Highway until he reached the farm house of an eccentric old patriot by the name of Capt. Axariah Wright. There he met Daniel Houghton and nearly 100 other men. They were there to tackle a pressing problem.

Continue Reading “Are You a Loyalist or A Rebel?”