Saturday, April 22, 2017

The curiously twisted history of Earthday

They say it’s your Earthday.

On your Day Planner (printed on partially recycled paper one would hope) you may notice that  April 22nd is officially called Earth Day.

You’d figure there would be a pretty straightforward explanation of the origins of Earth Day but noooooooooooo.

Earth the planet may have one mother but a lot of people are claiming paternity for Earth the Day. The two leading folks are former Senator Gaylord Nelson and a chap named John McConnell, founder of the Earth Society.

Back in 1962 Senator Nelson claims he persuaded JFK to go on an unheard of environmental tour of the country (in his gas guzzling, smog-belching stretch Cadillac no doubt.)  He claims that he wanted to make the environment a political issue. To quote Nelly:

Six years would pass before the idea that became Earth Day occurred to me while on a conservation speaking tour out West in the summer of 1969

In 1969 he watched anti-war demonstrations and noticed that campus teach-ins were an effective way to educate and organize American youth. He thought the same could be done for the environment. And thus in his words:

At a conference in Seattle in September 1969, I announced that in the spring of 1970 there would be a nationwide grassroots demonstration on behalf of the environment and invited everyone to participate.

On Oct 3rd 1969 a scant week or two after Gaylord’s speech and a few hundred miles south in San Francisco -- the other paternity suspect John McConnell got the Mayor of San Francisco to read a proclamation penned by McConnell that introduced the notion and the precise words “Earth Day”:

Here’s the proclamation:

 As Earthians we need a day to celebrate our global unity and
 destiny, and
 The observance of EARTH DAY will alert concern and interest for
 our planet -- with its precious treasure of living things, and
 EARTH DAY is to remind each person of his right, and the equal
 right of every other person, to the use of this global home and
 at the same time the equal responsibility of each person to
 preserve and improve the Earth and the quality of life thereon,
 That in the City and County of San Francisco March 21st (Vernal
 Equinox) be the designated EARTH DAY - a special day to remember
 Earth's tender seedlings of life and people; a day for planting
 trees and grass and flowers, for cleaning streams and wooded
 glens. That to further these purposes a Silent Hour For Peace (a
 time for quiet reflection or prayer) be observed on Earth Day at
 19:00 G.M.T. (11:00 a.m. P.S.T.). That on EARTH DAY the EARTH
 FLAG, which portrays in its center our "Beautiful Blue Planet;"
 be flown to encourage mutual respect for Earth and all its

There are a few interesting nuggets in there if you Earthians look closely enough. One of which is that Earth Day was to be celebrated on the Vernal Equinox, not as it is today on April 22nd.  Aside from the fact that symbolically the Vernal Equinox has always been a welcome home Mother Nature type celebration, the date itself was something the entire planet earth could synchronize its calendar to.

The April 22nd date came from the Gaylord faction, they had the Washington Beltway clout to declare a National Environmental Day. That particular date was chosen because it happened to be convenient for organizing.  Aside from that – the March date could still be rather chilly in the East and Midwest. April promised nicer weather for folks planning on going out into nature.  Some right wing wackos (but I repeat myself) claim the April 22nd date was chosen because it is also Lenin’s birthday. (I thought Lenin was a member of the Red Party not the Green Party.) Somehow in their DDT addled brains, being a friend of the environment makes you an enemy of democracy.  I can hear them now –“Karl Marx was a tree-hugger. Saddam Hussein recycles!” They’d be shocked to learn it was Richard Nixon who started the Environmental Protection Agency.

The other interesting nugget is the mention of an “Earth Flag” flying above City Hall.  How was there an Earth Flag before there was an Earth Day? This is where it becomes clearer that McConnell may have been the first Earthian.

For those of you too young to remember, or not yet a gleam in a parent’s eye, 1969 was one wacko year in one very disturbing decade.

JFK was assassinated in 63, Malcolm X in 65, MLK in 68, RFK in 68. There was rioting in the streets. The Days of Rage in Chicago, the Long Hot Summers with Newark and Detroit burning in July of 1967.

The war was raging in Vietnam. The nightly news had footage of American troops using napalm and Agent Orange to defoliate the jungles. The skyline of most major cities couldn’t be seen through the smog, America’s great rivers oozed with mercury.

69 was the culmination. There was the Woodstock Festival and the My Lai massacre.  And Man actually walked on the moon. Some claimed the lunar landing threw the universe out of orbit (which would explain how the ‘69 Mets won the World Series.)

The moon thing was key though. Before the lunar landing we had unmanned missions to orbit the moon. Those missions sent back pictures of the earth as well as the moon. It’s hard to explain to people nowadays how shocking it was to see a real-time picture of Earth from space. The Earth looked blue and beautiful and delicate and small. Small enough to break.

That sight had an effect on Mc Connell:

When the first photo of Earth appeared in Life (magazine) in 1969, I was deeply stirred -- as were many other people -- by what I saw. … In viewing the first photo from space, thereby sharing in part the experience of the astronauts, we experienced in a deep and emotional way a new awareness of our planet. As I looked at the Life photo it occurred to me that an Earth flag could symbolize and encourage our new world view and that the Earth as seen from space was the best possible symbol for this purpose.

NASA sent him a transparency of the photo used in Lifeand he copyrighted the Earth Flag in 1969. 

McConnell again:
Our first 500 flags were produced in a hurry, in order to use them at the "Moon Watch" at Central Park in New York City. This was the big event where we watched and celebrated the first landing on the Moon on 20 July 1969.

10,000 gather in Central Park to watch the moon landing.

The key thing is he had copyrighted the name and produced the flag months before Sen. Gaylord’s Seattle Conference or had officially introduced the idea of a global holiday called Earth Day at a UNESCO Conference on the Environment.

So McConnell looks like the real Earth Day daddy.

Of course, the advent of Earth Day itself was the culmination of a long series of events.

The true mother of the modern environmental movement would have to be Rachel Carson author of the seminal work “Silent Spring”. Published in 1962 it foretold a day when there were no songbirds in spring.

Another notable year on the environmental timeline would be 1967 --a group of volunteers on Long Island halted the spraying of DDT and formed a group called The Environmental Defense Fund. They would eventually get the FDA to ban the use of DDT in 1969.

Earth Day itself went from being a local celebration in San Francisco in March of 1970, to a national celebration in April of 1970. It was celebrated all over the earth on March 21, 1971 when Secretary General U Thant proclaimed the first worldwide Earth Day.

Earth Day was celebrated by most of the Earth last month. Wha?
Yep, San Francisco, Berkeley and Denver also celebrated the original Vernal Equinox date.

Here in the rest of the U.S. this is officially Earth Week and Friday is Earth Day. I don’t think the world really cares when we Americans celebrate Earth Day. But, it’s fairly important to our fellow earthlings that we do contemplate the environment. After all, we Americans make up only 4% of the world’s population; yet consume 25% of its resources.

By the way, you might be surprised to learn that in relation to the rest of the country you New Yorkers who live in this concrete jungle are comparatively Green. This is mainly due to the fact that Gothamites are walkers, who don’t own cars or lawns, nor require lawn mowers, pesticides nor fertilizer. And the city grows vertically instead of sprawling horizontally.

So my tender seedlings of life, I exhort you to put on your Earth Shoes and get out and spend some time with your mother this weekend. You haven’t communed with her in a while, have you?

Your Fellow Earthian,


Thursday, April 20, 2017

The curiously twisted history of 4-20 day


Whoaaaaaaaa Dude –happy highday.

Today is April 20th, the 4th month, 20th day of the year --420 Day.
Four Twenty Day is the High Holy Day of Stoners. The red-letter day* for Mother Marijuana. The happiest day of the year for smokers, jokers & midnight tokers.

*(Medieval Church Calendars had special Holy Days and Saint’s Feast Days printed in red ink. Thus --special days became known as “red-letter days.”

Last year I was scolded for not sending out a memo in time. (Dude, have another Twinkie and chill.) Friends recounted fond college memories of participating in Four Twenty Day ceremonies down at the Quad (interestingly enough, the best stories came from straight-laced Account People.) Some said tradition called for folks to light up at 4:20 am then again at 4:20 pm.

There's lots of folklore, urban myth and just plain whackjob stoner nonsense about the day.

Me, I'm too buzzed to research it all, so I'll just laze out and cut & paste the relevant truth from

Snagged from

Claim: '420' entered drug parlance as a term signifying the time to light up a joint.

Status: True.

Origins: Odd terms sneak into our language every now and then, and this is one of the oddest. Everyone who considers himself in the know about the drug subculture has heard that '420' has something to do with illegal drug use, but when you press them, they never seem to know why, or even what the term supposedly signifies.

It's both more and less than people make it out to be. '420' began its sub-rosa linguistic career in 1971 as a bit of slang casually used by a group of high school kids at San Rafael High School in California. '420' (always pronounced "four-twenty," never "four hundred and twenty") came to be an accepted part of the argot within that group of about a dozen pot smokers, beginning as a reminder of the time they planned to meet to light up, 4:20 p.m. Keep in mind this wasn't a general call to all dope smokers everywhere to toke up at twenty past four every day; it was twelve kids who'd made a date to meet near a certain statue. It's thus incorrect to deem that '420' originated as a national or international dope-smoking time, even though the term began as a reference to a particular time of day.

These days '420' is used as a generic way of declaring one likes to use marijuana or just as a term for the substance itself. Its earliest connotation of having to do with the time a certain group of students congregated to smoke wacky tobaccy is unknown to the overwhelming majority of those who now employ the term.

And here are the whackjob, stoner,
totally bogus claims about 420 Day:

420 is the penal code section for marijuana use in California.

Untrue. Section 420 of the California penal code refers to obstructing entry on public land. The penal codes of other states list different entries for 420, but none of them matches anything having to do with marijuana.

However, on 1 January 2004 the Governor of California signed that state's Senate Bill 420 which regulates marijuana used for medical purposes. This bill comes years after the term '420' was associated with marijuana and indeed its number likely was chosen because of the existing pop culture connection. This is the tail wagging the dog, not the other way around.

It's the Los Angeles or New York police radio code for marijuana smoking in progress.

It's not the police radio code for anything, let alone that.

It's the number of chemical compounds in marijuana.

The number of chemical compounds in marijuana is 315, according to the folks at High Times magazine.

April 20 is the date that Jim Morrison, Jimi Hendrix, or Janis Joplin died.

Though these performers were strongly identified with drug use during their brief lifetimes and the emerging drug culture after their demises, none of them kicked the bucket on April 20. Morrison died on July 3, Hendrix on September 18, and Joplin on October 4.

The 20th of April is the best time to plant marijuana.

There's no one "best time" -- that answer would change from one part of the country to another, or even one country to another.

It's the code you send to your drug dealer's pager.

Yeah, right. All drug dealers recognize a '420' page as "Please be waiting on the corner with my baggie of wildwood weed."

When the Grateful Dead toured, they always stayed in Room 420.

Untrue, says Grateful Dead Productions spokesman Dennis McNally.

Spurious etymologies and uncertain definition aside, '420' has slipped into a position of semi-respectability within the English lexicon. Various freewheeling cities annually celebrate "hemp fests" on April 20. There's a 4:20 record label in California, and a band called 4:20. Atlanta's Sweetwater Brewing Co. sells its 420 Pale Ale in supermarkets and opens its doors to the public at 4:20 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays. New York's 420 Tours sells low-cost travel packages to the Netherlands and Jamaica. Highway 420 Radio broadcasts "music for the chemically enhanced."

420s are routinely slipped into popular movies and television shows. In Fast Times at Ridgemont High the score of the football game was 42-0. Most of the clocks in Pulp Fiction are set to 4:20 (but not all — when the kid receives the watch it's set at 9:00). And there are many other instances, so keep your eyes peeled.

However, as amusing as it is to tie 420 to pot smoking and hunt for it in popular movies, the number has its dark side. Hitler was born on 20 April 1889, and the massacre of 13 victims at Columbine High School in Colorado took place on 20 April 1999.

That last bit was a bit of a buzzkill.

Happy 420 Day folks.

Resident Space Cowboy

And, since I bring it up…..

An interesting aside about the lyrics in the Steve Miller song The Joker,
its weirdo lyrics leave many folks mystified:

Some people call me the space cowboy, yeah
Some call me the gangster of love
Some people call me Maurice
Cause I speak of the pompitous of love

When asked the meaning of “pompitous” Miller claimed it was nonsense.
But music dicks did some sleuthing and found that Miller had lifted lyrics from a few old R& B tunes.

He swiped “pompitous of love” from a tune called “the Letter” written in 1954 by a guy named Vernon Green. Vernon apparently slurred his words but in his song he was singing about a puppet-tess of love. In Green’s words: “A term I coined to mean a secret paper-doll fantasy figure” A female puppet.

The song “the Joker” contains a double dose of lyrical larceny. It’s is also remembered for its memorable back end lyrics:

"I really love your peaches, wanna shake your tree.
Lovey dovey, lovey dovey, lovey dovey all the time."

They weren’t stolen from Vernon Green.
Nope, they were swiped wholesale from a 1953 hit by the Clovers’ called "Lovey Dovey" containing the lyrics:

"I really love your peaches wanna shake your tree
Lovey dovey, lovey dovey all the time.

Best part of all this is that in 1990 Steve Miller won a lawsuit against the Geto Boys for stealing “his” lyrics.

So “The Joker” was memorable, it just wasn’t original.
In other words, the Space Cowboy was a Cattle Rustler.
This blog entry is officially over. You can now go back to gazing at your navel

Friday, March 17, 2017

The Curiously Twisted History of St. Patrick's Day

Appropriately enough, there’s a good deal of blarney out there about Ole St. Pat.

What is known is that he was born in 389 A.D. in Banwen, Wales.

His name wasn’t Patrick, it was Maewyn Succat. The moniker “Patrick” was given to him later in life by Pope Celestine.

At the age of 16, this not particularly religious boy, was kidnapped by Irish Raiders, brought to Ireland and enslaved. During his time on the Emerald Isle he became a devout Christian. FULL STOP! He became a devout Christian?  I thought it was Paddy who introduced Christianity to Ireland? Nope.

Legend holds – and sometimes legend is a real whopper --that Christianity was brought to England and Ireland by Joseph of Arimathea or his son Josephus.  Joe of A Sr., you might remember, was the guy who offered up his own tomb for Christ’s burial. Legend holds that somehow or another he got a hold of the cup Christ used in the Last Supper and used it to catch his blood as he died on the cross.  Then, either he or his son took the cup to England and buried it.  This cup was known in French as the “Sang Real” –the True Blood. Say “Sang Real” three times fast and you’re saying Grail –the Holy Grail – Monty Python and all that Jazz.  Point is:  Ireland had Christians before Patrick.

Eventually Maewyyn escaped back to England joined the clergy and was ordained a priest. After Bishop Palladius, the first Irish missionary croaked in 431, Pope Celestine gave Maewyyn the new name of "Patercius" (from Latin "pater civium" meaning "the father of his people" think "paternity.")

Patercius went back to the Old Sod to minister to the Christians already living there and to convert the rest of the unwashed heathen.

Did St. Patrick really drive the snakes out of Ireland? 
People who know such things say there never were snakes in Ireland.  The story is symbolic. Ireland was pagan. The snake has always been symbolic of the devil (See Adam & Eve.) So in other words, St. Patrick rid Ireland of its pagan customs and gave Da Divil a boot in tha arse ta boot.

The Shamrock
The vast majority of the Irish were pagans. Members of Ireland’s ruling class were called Druids. It was from this class that the pagan priests emerged.  They worshipped nature and considered the shamrock a sacred plant. Three was also a mystical number to the Celts. (Here’s a weird “one world” connection there is a trefoil plant in Arabia called a shamrakh. This same plant is considered sacred in Iran).
As the story goes, Patrick, knowing the shamrock’s mystical importance used it to explain the Christian concept of the Trinity: Father, Son & the Holy Ghost/Spirit.

Problem is --the first written citation of this story did not appear until the time of the Protestant Reformation, nearly a thousand years after his death. Odds are it never happened.

Irish legend also credits St. Pat with the idea of using the pagan veneration of the sun for Christian advantage. He added a sun-like disc to the Christian crucifix, creating the Celtic cross. Maybe.

St. Patrick’s Day
This holy day commemorates the anniversary of his death on March 17th 461 AD.

St. Patrick’s Day is the religious feast day of the patron saint of Ireland. No surprise then that in this very Catholic country it was merely a religious holy day. In fact, up until the 1970s, Irish laws dictated that all pubs were to remain locked tight on March 17th. It was a day to go to mass, not Bennigans. Notice the word “was”. They can thank the Yanks for that. Because it was in America that St. Patrick’s Day became what it is today.

Let me explain.

The myth of America says it was founded upon the principle of religious freedom. Truth is: no one really wanted the Jews, the Catholics, or the Quakers for that matter. (Let’s not even talk about those pesky Hindus. Kidding, I'm kidding.)

Irish Catholics began arriving in numbers just after the War of 1812.
By the height of the potato famine in 1847 it seemed as if the island of Manhattan was going to sink from the weight of Irish immigrants flooding ashore.

You can visit the Irish Famine Memorial just north of the World Financial Center. It consists of an Irish cottage that was abandoned during the famine shipped to the shores of New York and set up on a platform overlooking the Hudson River facing the Statue of Liberty.

The Paddys were quite unloved and were depicted as belligerent drunks, thieves and un-American Papists waiting for word from the Pope to take over the country. 

They were arrested so often the police vans were called paddy wagons.  They were referred to as “Blacks turned inside out”. Newspaper illustrations usually pictured the Irish as little monkeys or big apes.

An interesting book that explains all of this is called How the Irish became white by Noel Ignatiev.

Ironically, this derogatory ethnic stereotyping is kept alive today in the mascot for America’s most prestigious Irish Catholic University-- Notre Dame’s Fighting Irish symbol.

In New York, the micks settled in a sprawling neighborhood called Little Ireland. You know that neighborhood today as Chinatown, Little Italy and Nolita.  There is very little left of Little Ireland other than a Chinese Restaurant on Pell Street still calledPell’s Dinty and a street called Kenmare named after a town in County Kerry (which, Don’t ya know once won the coveted title of Tidiest Town in Ireland.)

Another McRelic is the original St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Nolita now called Old St. Patrick’s Church ( 264 Mulberry Street.) It was the church the community defended in the movie  “Gangs of New York.” The scene depicted in the film was an actual historic event.
We can thank Oliver Cromwell for another historic event that was later played out on the streets of New York. In 1649 Cromwell invaded Ireland, performed a few sizeable massacres confiscated 40% of the land and gave it as back pay to his Protestant soldiers. And thus began “The Troubles.” Northern Ireland became home to the Protestant Orange Order, which marched (and still marches) through Belfast's Catholic neighborhoods every July 12th.  It was a reminder that in 1690 William of Orange defeated the Catholic King James.  It’d be kinda like if Boston Red Sox Fans marched through the Bronx each October chanting: Choke! Choke! Choke!

In the 1820’s Ulster immigrants brought the Orange Order to America and in an act sure to provoke violence, they marched through New York’s Catholic neighborhood chanting “Croppies Lie Down”.  This was the historical antecedent to the present day Neo-Nazis marching through Jewish neighborhoods under police protection.

The worst of these riots occurred in 1871 at 24th Street and Eighth Ave. At that street corner soldiers guarding a small group of parading Orangemen fired volleys point blank into crowds of jeering Irish Catholics. Over 60 Irish-Catholics were killed.
(See illustration)

In addition, Anti-Catholic mobs like the Bowery Boys, (separate from the Orange Order) would march through Irish neighborhoods on St. Patrick’s Day carrying “Paddies” effigies of the Irish Patron Saint dressed in rags holding a whiskey bottle, wearing a string of potatoes or a necklace of codfish, mocking the Catholic custom of fasting.  

And thus the Irish became the Fighting Irish. They began to organize in self-defense. In 1836 they formed the Ancient Order of Hibernians.  (Hibernia is the Latin name for Ireland). The AOH would eventually field 3 thousand armed men in uniform.
The first St. Patrick’s Day celebration in America was held in Boston in 1737. It seems to have been a small fund-raising dinner dance. But the Micks up in Boston love to mention it to the Paddys in New York.

The world’s first St. Patrick’s day parade was held in New York City in 1761, when a contingent of Irish soldiers in the British Army paraded up Broadway. The parade continued to be held under the auspices of military organizations until 1812.

By 1853 the Ancient Order of Hibernians (AOH) began to play a dominant role in the parade.  Now that they had a paramilitary organization, they needed a parade to strut their stuff. So the parade became kind of like the old May Day Parades in Moscow, a way to flaunt the size of the Irish martial might, an annual “Look how many men we have --don’t mess with us” reminder to the Protestant majority. It was no coincidence that the parade was held on Fifth Avenue not only the site of the new cathedral, but also the home of the ruling class. The parade soon became an opportunity for politicians to court the “Green Machine” the oh-so-important immigrant vote.

To this day the AOH still runs NY’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade.
The AOH remembers well the blood spilled on the sidewalks of New York, which is why there’s a distinct martial air to its parade. As opposed to -- say in Chicago -- where the parade is led by leprechauns on rollerblades followed by costumed characters dressed as the Honey Baked Bears, Monster Trucks from Rock Stations, double-decker buses with ads for Irish bars and lovely lassies handing out samples of Irish Spring soap. In New York a military regiment, NY's own Fighting 69th, always "steps off" to lead the parade.

The 256th St. Paddy's Day Parade will be held today on Fifth Avenue.  It begins at 11:00 am, and goes along from 44th uptown and then to over Third Ave, where there happen to be a few bars. There will be a live telecast of the 11:00am on NBC.

Aside from the parade, New York City also may have added one other important ingredient to the holiday.  If you asked for corned beef and cabbage in Ireland most folks will scratch their noggins.  The Irish ate and still eat something called Bacon and Cabbage, corned pork that looks and tastes very much like the corned beef you have at Katz’s deli.  I’ve read that Irish New Yorkers were introduced to corned beef by their Jewish neighbors on the Lower East Side. I’m not absolutely sure of this but it seems plausible. Or it could just be blarney with a slathering of schmaltz.

The songwriters of NY’s Tin Pan Alley ( 28th Street between Broadway and 6th Ave)also added some o’tunes to the party, writing such ditties as: When Irish Eyes Are Smiling, Too-Ra-Loo-Ra-Loo-Ral, Mother Machree and Little Bit of Heaven, Sure they call it Ireland. These sentimental songs were played in the Music Halls of the Bowery to entertain homesick Irish immigrants.

Another American addition to the Irish story is the happy go lucky leprechaun.

The Irish "lobaircin” were tiny little pissed off men whose job it was to mend the smelly shoes of all the other fairies. Walt Disney’s 1959 film DarbyO'Gill & the Little People, pictured them as a happy little loveable green smurfs. And this view of them has become dominant ever since.

America officially won the culture war in 1995 when the Irish Government began a national campaign to use St. Patrick's Day as an opportunity to generate tourism; they happily opened the alcohol floodgates and promoted a St. Patrick’s Day Parade in Dublin. You can watch the Dublin parade live at 12:30 pm GMT, go

So in the end the 34.3 million Americans who claim Irish descent wound up influencing the O.G.’s (Original Greensters) --the 3.9 million Paddys they’d descended from.

To sum up:  we’ve taken some pagan traditions --shamrocks, sun worship and fairies and added them to Ireland’s most important Saint’s feast day -- then turned that into a celebration of Green Beer, Mc Donald’s Shamrock Shakes, a good deal of Sure and Begorra, some Lucky Leprechauns and quite a few inebriated teenagers wearing Kiss me I’m Irish buttons.

An estimated 93.3 million Americans say they plan to wear green today. Me--- I think I’ll just stay home in bed. 

And if you don’t like it you can, as they so sweetly say in Gaelic: 
Pòg mo thòin (pronounced Pug Ma hone) Translation: Kiss me keester.

Donal O’Siodhachain
(Daniel Sheehan)

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

The curiously twisted history of Mardi Gras


Shrove Tuesday, Fat Tuesday, Mardi Gras, Pancake Day, Fastnacht.


What’s all this fuss about a plain old Tuesday? 
Well, it’s all because of a dirty Wednesday.

Tomorrow is Ash Wednesday, which gets its first name from the ashes of burnt palm fronds that are placed upon a supplicant’s head, made in the sign of the cross. For Christian congregations, Ash Wednesday is considered the beginning of Lent -- the 40 days that lead up to Easter. 
(The word Lent is derived from the Old English word for spring “lencten”) 

Originally, the 40 days of Lent were meant to be sort of a religious boot camp to prepare converts to Christianity. Ash Wednesday was the kick-off that lead up to Super Sunday--Easter, when the converts would be baptized.  Eventually there was just about no one left in Rome to convert, so Lent itself was converted into a time of penance, of fasting, of abstinence.  Folks abstained from all sorts a good stuff including meat or “carne” (carne – flesh, the root word for  “carnival”). They also gave up eggs and dairy products. So on Tuesday, the day before the start of the Lenten fast, folks cleared out their cupboards of all the foods they couldn’t have for the next 40 days. They cooked ‘em up and ate like pigs. In essence they feasted before the fast. 

In France a fattened ox was paraded through the streets before the big communal BBQ, and thus the day was given the name Mardi Gras (Fat Tuesday.)

The English do things their own way (like drive on the left hand side of the road) so they called this day Shrove Tuesday from an Olde English word “shrive” which means to confess, to clean out your soul. The English have a tradition of eating a dinner of  “Shrove cakes” dripping in butter. They are pancakes made with the eggs and dairy products you’re expelling from your home. And that’s why Shrove Tuesday is also known as Pancake Tuesday.(I smell a product tie-in with Denny’s.)

Lent has a symbolic undertone as a time of cleansing in preparation for Easter and Spring. You first cleanse your cupboard, then your soul and eventually the entire house is purified. In the Ukraine, people traditionally whitewashed their homes inside and out.  Today we know this as Spring-cleaning.

The more astute readers of this blog may remember last year's Passover memo and have already noticed the similarity between Shrove Tuesday and the Jewish Passover tradition of all non-kosher foods containing yeast being consumed or disposed of before the holiday begins. It's also no coincidence that the celebration of Passover occurs very close to the Christian Lenten fast.  We'll get into that in a few weeks with an Easter/Passover posting. But for now we'll Passover that subject. Ugh.

Over the years the religious side of Shrove Tuesday has been replaced by the Narlins party down, shake your booty, Fat Tuesday  “Hey Mista Throw me zumthin” Cajun communal celebration.

King cake (originally 3 Kings Cake celebrating the Epiphany) with plastic baby Jesus inside.
Why New Orleans? And what’s a Cajun?

In 1763 the French and the English concluded one of their frequent World Wars with the Peace of Paris. We call it the French and Indian War because here the colonists fought the French and their Indian allies. In Europe it was referred to as the Seven Years War. It began in Western Pennsylvania and spread throughout the world. The French lost the war and in the process they lost the part of New France called Canada. The English expelled many of the French from the land of the loon. In particular the French who lived in an area along the Eastern coast called Acadia. The Brits renamed it New Scotland –Nova Scotia. The French migrated from Canada to the French territory along the Mississippi named for King Louis called Louisiana. When they got there folks asked them who they were and they replied: "Acadians." Apparently they slurred their speech because they were thereafter referred to not as Acadians, but Cajuns. It seems the Cajuns did a lot of slurring. We know their music as Zydeco. A strange word with an even stranger origin. The first big hit in this musical style had the title:“The String beans are too salty.” Of course its title was in French: “Les Haricots sont trop sel.” Somehow, haricots, pronounced: Arr-ree-co, morphed into “Zydeco.”

Okay, enough linguistic lunacy.

Point is the French Catholics in New Orleans kept alive the ancient Fat Tuesday/Mardi Gras approach to Lent.

It’s obvious that Mardi Gras has a seamy undertone; its wild pagan sexual abandon is very close to the surface. Interesting isn’t it, that Tuesday/Mardi is named for a pagan god – Mars? Similarly, Tuesday is named for Tiw the Teutonic god of war.

Mardi Gras retains the concept of feasting before the fast, but folks gorge on sex and alcohol, not buttered pancakes. It’s more about booby flashing then soul searching. This non-religious celebration has more to do with the human flesh meaning of carne –carnal knowledge, than that of eating animal flesh – carnivorous.

Fun Mardi Gras Fact: In Athens, during the 6th cent. B.C., a yearly libidinous celebration in honor of the god Dionysus (Bacchus) was the first recorded instance of the use of a parade float. 

But as we’ve seen before, many religious holidays are instituted to suppress the pagan, bacchanalian side of society. No big surprise then, that it was during the Roman Empire that pagan carnivals got way out of hand. The major Roman carnivals were the Bacchanalia, the Saturnalia, and the Lupercalia.

Lupercalia still lives today in St. Valentine’s Day and Mardi Gras. It was held annually on Feb. 15. This Roman fertility festival consisted of male youths who ran around town dressed in costumes (animal skins) slapping passersby on the rump with strips of goatskin. (Goats were the embodiment of sexuality; goats –horny—get it?) This was supposed to induce fertility and ward off evil. The straps were called “Februa” and thus February got its name. But you already know that from my last Valentine’s Day post.

In Europe, the tradition of fertility celebrations persisted well into Christian times.  Since they were deeply rooted in European folklore it was difficult for the church to stamp them out. So they were finally accepted and modified into church sanctioned events with the sexuality dialed way down, i.e. St. Valentine’s Day celebrates love not lust.

But as we can all plainly see on the news tonight, the pagan part of the Shrove Tuesday religious celebration has reared its horny little head.

Well that’s about it, I gotta go eat my pancake supper, get all my doubloons ready for my throws; go join my krewe, the Mystick Krewe of Comus  ‘n sashay down Bourbon Street.

Laissez les   bon     temps  rouler!
Let    the  good    times   roll!

Happy Lupercalia everyone!

Fat Dano

Monday, February 20, 2017

The Curiously Twisted History of President's Day

Monday Feb 20th  is Presidents' Day right?

On the face of it this holiday seems pretty straightforward.  It's called Presidents' Day, it's a national holiday and it celebrates the birthday of Presidents Washington and Lincoln.

Sorry. There is no such thing as a national holiday. There are federal holidays where federal offices are closed. Monday is a federal holiday.

According to the Federal Gov the third Monday in February is officially called ---Washington's Birthday---not Presidents’ Day. It officially and legally has nothing to do with Abraham Lincoln.

Oh I can hear the traffic on google...

Why is that?
Hard to believe, but Abraham Lincoln was never honored with a Federal holiday. I know you’re going to send me to websites that say Monday is a national holiday called President’s Day.  Remember, there’s no such thing as a national holiday and that isn’t how you’d spell Presidents’ Day anyway. (There’s lots of iffy info on the Internet.)

Part of the confusion stems from the fact that you may remember having off on Lincoln’s birthday. You may have, many states used to have a State holiday for Honest Abe.  No surprise that Illinois was the first in 1892.

But states are not obliged to adopt federal holidays, which only effect federal offices and agencies. While most states have adopted the federal celebration of Washington's Birthday, a dozen of them officially celebrate something they call Presidents' Day. A number of the states that celebrate Washington's Birthday also recognize Lincoln's Birthday as a separate legal holiday. Illinois the land of Lincoln is one.  New York State is another it celebrates: Feb 12th Lincoln’s birthday and Feb 19th Washington’s Birthday.

What gives??? Here goes...

The original holiday commemorated GW's B-day.  It was first held the last
full year of his presidency on Feb 11th 1796. However, by then Feb 11th was no longer his birthday.


George Washington was born on Feb. 11, 1731, however, this was according to Ye old Julian calendar. In 1752, Britain and her American Colonies switched to the Gregorian calendar, which changed the New Year from March back to January (we'll talk about this again when we get to our April Fools posting). The switch also made dates jump ahead an additional 11 days. Thus, in 1752 Washington began blowing out birthday candles on Feb 22nd.

Not everyone was happy with celebrating GW's b-day --whatever the date. Thomas Jefferson and his pals thought it all a little too similar to adulation of royalty like the damned Brits.

These disagreements lasted until Washington kicked the bucket in 1799.
Congress then passed a resolution calling on the nation to observe February 22, 1800 in his honor. But it was not a federal holiday.

Since he was a southern boy, GW's b-day was always big in the South; in fact, Richmond Virginia was officially celebrating it before he became President. But, the observance didn't really catch on nationwide until 1832 just after what would have been his 100th birthday. By then, GW had pretty much been elevated to American Sainthood.

One notable birthday party happened in 1850 in La-La-land. There, a fancy dress ball was held in honor of Washington where only L.A.'s upper crust were allowed to attend. They arrived in Hummer coaches at Graumann's Colonial. The hoi polloi (lower classes from Greek “the many”) retaliated by firing a canon into the ballroom, killing several partygoers.

Okay, so here's where things get hinky.

In 1864 Old Abe gets whacked.
He was killed on Good Friday, the day Jesus was crucified. Here in New York signs were put up along Broadway that said,  "Our Christ has fallen" GW may have reached Sainthood but now he had some competition.

(The fact that Old Abe was at the theater on Good Friday should give you a good indication that he wasn’t a religious man he was certainly a spiritual one, and that there once was a time when you didn’t have to cater to the Religious right to get elected.)

Congress held a memorial service the following year on Abe's b-day Feb 12th. After that, some northern states declared Abe day an official state holiday but Ole Abe was still quite unloved in the south and they didn’t come to the party.  Which is why Lincoln's Birthday never became a Federal holiday.

The oddest part of the story is that George Washington's birthday didn't become an official federal holiday until 1885, a full 21 years after Lincoln's death.  It seems to me they could have declared a Combo deal Presidents' Day then, but didn't. The slight to Abe looks political and intentional. Especially when you learn that Robert E Lee’s birthday, Jan 19th, is a state holiday in Arkansas, Florida, Kentucky, Louisiana, South Carolina, Alabama, Mississippi and Virginia. It’s celebrated as Confederate Heroes day in Texas. Alabama, Mississippi Florida also celebrate the birthday of Jefferson Davis, President of the Confederacy. But no Abe Lincoln.

In 1971 in an attempt to give folks 3-day weekends, the observation of Washington's Birthday was officially shifted to the third Monday in February by order of legislation HR15951. Some reformers had wanted to change the name of the holiday as well, to Presidents' Day, to honor both Abe and George, but Congress rejected that proposal. I’m not sure if this was due to the Southern Congressional Caucus. But the result was the holiday remained and still officially remains: Washington's Birthday.

Here’s where the confusion comes in---President Nixon not only had a hard time understanding and following the Constitution, (but was a constitutional scholar compared to Trump) Tricky Dick didn't understand the difference between an Executive Order and an Executive Proclamation. He made a proclamation calling it Presidents' Day saying it was to celebrate all presidents, even himself, but a Presidential Proclamation carries no legal standing. Which is why Monday still officially celebrates George Washington not Abraham Lincoln.

Abe & George's Excellent New York Adventure

If you care to celebrate the day, you dear citizen of Gotham are once again in a most envious position.

You can stand outside the 42nd Street library in the middle of Fifth Ave –the spot where in 1776 General George Washington rode his horse attempting to rally his troops in a battle against British Soldiers.

You can go uptown to Fort Washington where, duh, Washington’s fort stood. 

Stand at the Fulton Ferry landing in Brooklyn next to the Barge Music boat. Look for a rock and plaque that marks the spot where GW stood as he evacuated his army after they were beaten by the British at the Battle of Brooklyn in August 1776.

Go over the George Washington Bridge, which rises above the very spot where once again he and his entire army evacuated the city.

You can walk over to Union Square Park and stand in front of the old site of Virgin Records ( Now a Citibank) across from the equestrian statue of George Washington. A colonial Inn once stood here on the road just outside of New York (Wall street area). In 1783 after the Revolutionary War General Washington waited here until he got word that the British Army had finally evacuated the city. Then Washington mounted his horse and rode downtown and reoccupied New York. (I say, is that why there's an equestrian statue of Washington here?)
Washington on Broadway the day the Brits evacuated.

Or you can walk out beside Citibank at 14th and Broadway ( the old Virgin Records site) and stand in the street, in the middle of Broadway. Abraham Lincoln’s funeral cortege rode over this spot in 1864; all the buildings and lampposts were draped in black.  Look up at the building opposite you Shoe Mania! 

Teddy Roosevelt in 2nd floor window on left
Lincoln in box on street.

If you were here that day you would have seen a young boy looking out the 2nd story window watching the procession. The boy would one day grow up to be President, his name Theodore Roosevelt. (You can visit his boyhood home a mere 3 blocks from here The building that stood on the procession route was his Uncle’s house.

You can walk through the lobby of City Hall where Lincoln’s body was placed to await mourners.

Walk outside into City Hall Park and stand where George Washington stood when he first heard the Declaration of Independence read aloud to his troops.

Washington sworn in at Wall and Bwy. Trinity Church in the bkgrd.
Or go a few blocks south to Wall and Broad and stand where George Washington was sworn in as our first President- (I say, is that why there’s a big statue of Georgie here?) Yes, New York was the nation’s first Capital.  Washington lived at 39 Broadway.  And worshiped at St. Paul’s church across from City Hall Park, where you can still see his pew.

The First White House
Or  go over and stand next to the Brooklyn Bridge anchorage near Pearl Street. Where the first “White House” stood.  Washington’s home when New York City was the United States first capital.

Or walk through the Washington Square Arch put here to commemorate the 100th Anniversary of Washington Inauguration.

Or go to the Metropolitan Museum and see the famous painting Washington crossing the Delaware.

Or go into Kean’s Chophouse at 72 west 36th and see the original Ford’s Theatre Playbill from the night Lincoln was assassinated.

Or Visit The Forbes Galleries at 62 Fifth Ave. and see a handwritten letter by Mary Todd Lincoln contesting some charges for Abe’s Inauguration suit.

Mrs. Lincoln's fave store Victoria's Secret
Or walk into a store she frequented–Arnold Constable’s Dry Good store at Fifth Ave and 19th street. (The French 2nd Empire building that now houses Victoria Secret.)

Lincoln at Cooper Union

Or you can walk over to Astor Place—and go to the auditorium of Cooper-Union where Lincoln gave his famous speech that concluded:


Or walk into McSorley’s Old Ale house across the street where old Abe threw one back after his speech.

But do celebrate.

One last thing ---as a copywriter I’m struck by the fact we think we’re pretty hot stuff when we can use 72 words to communicate something in a 30 second tv spot. Read below and see what a truly inspired writer can do with 256 words.

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

 Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

 But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate -- we can not consecrate -- we can not hallow -- this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us -- that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion -- that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain -- that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom -- and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

Worth remembering – both the man and the words.

Happy whateva.

President of Curious New York