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”

Snow Day, March 15, 2017

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There’s something totally relaxing about sitting in the comfort of your warm home while Mother Nature unleashes her winter fury all around you. Why does it relax me so? It’s not because I’m taking the day off from work. Thanks to the wonders of modern technology, I can work anywhere, anytime, 24/7 (as long as the electricity is working, but that concern was so last week for most people and so two weeks ago for me, but more on that later…). It’s not just because I can rest easy, knowing my family is safe with me (or safe wherever they are).

That’s all true, but there’s something else that relaxes me. It’s knowing that I’m sharing a common experience with everyone else in our broader community. There’s something to be said about this collective involvement. When a snow storm beyond a certain magnitude strikes, everyone stops. Well, they stop once they’re finished raiding the local grocery store for such essentials as milk, bread, and (fill-in-the-blank-with-your-favorite-non-nutritional-snack). Once prepared, we all head home and wait.

Admit it, are you like me? Do you agonize in anticipation waiting for that first flurry? Do you Continue Reading “Snow Day, March 15, 2017”

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”

Speed versus Accuracy? It All Depends on the Game

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Quantum physics is weird. Despite studying it for four intense years under the tutelage of some of the most elite professors in the field, I didn’t really get it until I read The Cosmic Code shortly after I earned my degree. Written by Heinz Pagels, a physicist and frequent contributor to The New York Times on topics like cosmology and other fun science subjects, the book explained the complex concepts of physics to the lowly layman. Now, my curriculum vitae might have suggested I wasn’t a lowly layman. While this may have been true for most areas of astrophysics, when it came to quantum physics I was as lowly as lowly could get.

In Pagels’ words, I was a “determinist.” A determinist is a classical physicist who sees the Continue Reading “Speed versus Accuracy? It All Depends on the Game”

7th Heaven? I’m Not Saying It’s Aliens, But…

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Americans seem to have been infatuated with the concept of extraterrestrial life ever since Italian Astronomer Giovanni Schiaparelli placed his eye on the lens of that new (and very powerful) refractor telescope in the Osservatorio Astronomico di Brera. The Brera Observatory (so named because it was located in the Brera district of Milan, Italy) to this day sits on the very urban corner of Via Brera and Via Flori Ocsuri. The Jesuit astronomer Ruđer Josip Bošković (or “Ruggiero Giuseppe Boscovich,” depending on which ethnic group you believe controlled Dubrovnik in the Republic of Ragusa at the time of his birth) built the observatory in 1764. Within a decade, Pope Clements XIV issued his July 21, 1773 papal bull formally suppressing the Jesuits. Among other things, this papal bull passed the ownership of the observatory to municipal, rather than religious, authorities.

His early work having brought fame both to him and his country, the Kingdom of Italy bought Schiaparelli an 8.6 inch Merz Equatorial Refracting Telescope from famed German optician Georg Merz. In 1874 the telescope was installed on the roof of the Brera Observatory and Schiaparelli used it initially to study double stars. With the opposition of Mars set to happen on September 5, 1877, Schiaparelli turned his sight to the Red Planet. (An “opposition” is an astronomical event that occurs when the Earth is exactly between the Sun and the planet.) It was during this period of observations, beginning on September 12, 1877, that Schiaparelli drew his now famous map of Mars. Here lies, as they say, the rest of the story.Continue Reading “7th Heaven? I’m Not Saying It’s Aliens, But…”

Why Trump Won’t Lead The Reagan Revolution

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In the spirit of this week’s Presidential Inauguration, I’m going to do something I rarely do: I going to share with you a personal correspondence. Early last year, just as the Republican primary was starting to get interesting, a classmate of mine who writes for the National Review went full speed into the “Never Trump” camp. In March, I penned this letter to her:

Maggie:

Too bad most of the comments on your “Good-Bye Reagan Revolution!” article are ad hominem attacks on you; thus, have no validity. I’ll speak to you on a more personal level since we grew up together in the midst of the Reagan Revolution. First some background, in case you forgot (and I have no reason to believe you remember). In 1979/1980 I was (and Continue Reading “Why Trump Won’t Lead The Reagan Revolution”

What The University of Chicago Can Teach Yale

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nathan_hale_statue_flanked_by_two_soldiers_yale_university_1917They took all incoming freshman on a special tour within a day of our arrival at the campus in New Haven. Those were ancient times, when many (like me) had neither the time nor the treasure to visit colleges prior to matriculation (let alone application). To this day, one fact from that introductory outing stands out in my much more crowded brain – the visit inside and around Connecticut Hall. Completed in 1757, this last remaining survivor of Yale’s “Old Brick Row” served as a dormitory for nearly two centuries. It was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1965.

But that’s not what I remember.

Here’s what I remember: First, there was some obscure graffiti left on an interior wall. Supposedly more than a century old, I don’t remember what it said. All I remember feeling upon hearing this story is that college students have always been rascals and Yale apparently didn’t mind – and even glorified – these youthful misdemeanors.

The second memory carried far greater weight. Outside of Connecticut Hall stands a Continue Reading “What The University of Chicago Can Teach Yale”

Welcome to the Real New Year

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wildflowers-1353003-1919x1278The calendar doesn’t say summer ended during that first week of September, but we all know it did. How many of us squeezed out those last few days, those last few hours, those last few minutes, together with family, friends, or just within our own thoughts. Each year, the long Labor Day weekend becomes a bittersweet reminder of the promises of June, soon to become forever just another memory.

For me it’s the tastes, the smells, and the sounds I remember most. They’re all so interwoven I can no longer distinguish one sense from another. Is it the taste of the aroma from a field full of wildflowers? Is it the smell of those late summer nights, its muggy air thick with the chirps of crickets and twinkling with the flicker of fire flies? Is it the sound of those sumptuous family meals, whether cookouts, roasts, or omnipresent macaroni dishes? It’s all a blur, a collage of happiness, a pleasant memorial to the waning moments of freedom.

What I most forlornly recall, though, are the last visits. For far too many times, the Continue Reading “Welcome to the Real New Year”

Olympian Thoughts…

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beach-volleyball-1252930-300x225What’s with the pageantry of the opening ceremony of the Olympics? I’m sorry. I just never got into watching the Rose Bowl Parade. Show the actual game, then I might be inclined to sit a spell and take in the sport.

You can well appreciate, then, my attitude going into this year’s Summer Olympics presented a less than enthusiastic air. Left to my own devices, I would have skipped the entire spectacle, opting instead for a series of classic John Wayne movies. Alas, we have a “stay-at-home-son” (as he refers to himself) who, doing his best to maintain male stereotypes, can’t go a day, an hour, a minute, a second, without sports. Thus was I imprisoned in my own home, forced fed a steady diet of Olympian athletic cuisine.

“What the heck,” I thought. “Why not turn lemons into lemonade?” And so, what follows represents the good, the bad, and the ugly of my experience perched in front of the magic Continue Reading “Olympian Thoughts…”

All Quiet on the Email Front

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email-or-e-mail-1243632_300For nearly two days now the many email folders in my universe have remained quiet. It’s called “propagation” in the jargon of internet specialists. I call it “bliss.” I’ve forgotten what it’s like to be off the grid. A long, long time ago (in what seems like a far distant galaxy), I shunned email. Does this surprise you? It should and it shouldn’t. I’ve always told people I was either born fifty years too early or fifty years too late. The former is revealed in my affinity for such things as classic trains, old time Americana, and the Marx Brothers. The latter manifests itself through my enthusiasm for astronomy and space exploration, the social possibilities of crowd-based technology solutions, and the new media.

Truth be told, for all the technology edges I’ve found leading, I’m really a stubborn old coot. Yes, it’s true that in 1989 we were able to start a weekly community newspaper in no time because we utilized the strange new world of “Pagemaker” and “laser printers.” But, do you realize, I had still avoided all use of ATMs? I had no problem digitizing print media. I abhorred the thought of ceding my preciously small bank account to some soulless Continue Reading “All Quiet on the Email Front”