Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Easy Virtue

David P. Schmitt of Bradley University compared the sociosexuality of no fewer than 48 countries in a scholarly paper entitled Sociosexuality from Argentina to Zimbabwe: A 48 nation study of sex, culture, and strategies of human mating. A sociosexual orientation is a tendency toward either unrestricted casual sex or toward stable committed relationships. Dave must have had a blast gathering data. (Was it a taxpayer-funded grant?) Keep in mind the results have little to do with pay-for-sex hot spots (Amsterdam, for instance), which often exist in places in which much more culturally conservative attitudes prevail generally. Nearly all of the differences among countries are in female attitudes; men don’t vary much place to place, and to the extent they do it is in the opposite direction to women.

There are some surprises. The supposedly reserved Brits score far higher than Americans who, amazingly, edge out the supposedly amorous French.

Schmitt’s method for deriving the actual numbers is complex. I suggest consulting the study if you are interested (it is dry and in PhD-ese, but informative), but the bottom-line results are below. High scores lean casual.

Finland 50.50
New Zealand 47.69
Slovenia 46.26
Lithuania 46.10
Austria 45.73
Latvia 43.93
Croatia 42.98
Israel 40.95
Bolivia 40.90
Argentina 40.74
UK 40.17
Estonia 39.95
Germany 39.68
Netherlands 39.34
Morocco 39.31
Switzerland 39.13
Serbia 38.72
Fiji 38.58
Brazil 37.93
Czech Rep. 37.52
Australia 37.29
USA 37.05
France 36.57
Turkey 36.06
Mexico 35.69
Slovakia 34.90
Peru 34.59
Canada 34.52
Italy 34.37
Poland 34.21
Spain 33.72
Belgium 32.82
Congo, DR 32.43
Greece 32.38
Ukraine 32.27
Romania 32.16
Philippines 32.10
Malta 31.27
Portugal 29.55
Lebanon 28.57
Botswana 27.02
Ethiopia 26.55
Japan 24.10
Hong Kong 22.90
Zimbabwe 22.66
South Korea 22.21
Bangladesh 19.67
Taiwan 19.22

Overall 35.31

The Finns, huh? Who knew?

Sunday, March 27, 2011

They Tread the Flowers That Bloom in May

April looms and running season is upon us again. Running always has been a sport, and, as a popular organized pastime, it is older than we usually remember. The Boston Marathon has been an April tradition since 1897. I won’t be entering it. Nor will I be entering any of the many 5k and 10k events in the towns near where I live. Hey, if a black bear charges me (one turns up in my back yard on rare occasion) I’ll run, but probably not for 10k, and certainly not for a marathon distance.

In my view, the original marathon runners, the Athenian army in 490 BC, had a reasonable excuse; they had to hurry over the 26 mile distance (in full armor) from Marathon to Athens before the Persian fleet could attack the undefended city. (This event gets confused in some accounts with the 150 mile run by the messenger Pheidippedes from Athens to Sparta mentioned by Herodotus and by the same messenger’s run from Marathon to Athens mentioned by Plutarch.) Doing the same distance just for the heck of it strikes me as odd, but to each his or her own. “Vertical marathons,” which are races up the stairs of skyscrapers, don’t entice me either. I once dated a girl who lived in a 5th floor walk-up in Chelsea, and that was quite enough. The stairs never actually deterred me from visiting her, but I admit they caused me to think about it. All this doesn’t mean I don’t applaud runners as they pass by, for I do; it makes me happy not to be one of them.

Perhaps the most ambitious organized long distance race to date was the so-called Bunion Derby in 1928: 3400 miles (5472k) from Los Angeles to New York. It was promoted by showman C.C. Pyle and sponsored by Dr. Scholl, the bunion pad guy. As far as I know, there are no plans to duplicate it. The first prize was $25,000 (about $325,000 in today’s dollars). There were 421 entrants, each paying a (rather stiff) $100 entry fee. On the very first day, 222 runners dropped out from heat exhaustion in Death Valley. Another runner was taken out by a hit-and-run driver. 55 runners made it as far as Ohio, but they were spread out over such a distance by then that scarcely anyone noticed them as one by one they passed through towns. After the first day or two, the press largely ignored the whole race, as did the public. The runners’ route met the Hudson River at Weehawken; from there each runner took the ferry to the 42nd Street Pier in Manhattan and then ran the final stretch to Madison Square Garden. Only 4000 people bought seats to greet the winner (the old MSG had 18,000 seats). Andy Payne, a 19-year-old Cherokee Oklahoman, won with a time of 573 hours 4 minutes and 23 seconds. He stood in the arena long enough to receive his prize money and then fell unconscious. He recovered. John Salo, a shipfitter from Passaic, NJ, came in second nearly a day behind Andy. He collected $10,000. C.C. Pyle, thinking of all the money he lost on this media flop, said of the runners, “not one of them suffered more than I did.”

Maybe C.C. was just ahead of his time. Would a Bunion Derby work in 2011? I think it might. Heck, for a $325,000 purse I’d contemplate buying some running shoes myself. Only contemplate, mind you.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Socially Redeeming Value

Do you wish to put off Spring Cleaning (or, horrors, filing taxes)? I suggest recreational reading, which somehow makes us feel less guilty than than does vegging out in front of a TV or updating a facebook page. After all, we thereby help to support the publishing industry which is in such a state of sad decline. I’ll also recommend an author who will keep your mind off those dust bunnies and W2s for hours.

For those who haven’t yet discovered him, Jack Ketchum (nom de plume of Dallas Mayr) is one of today’s foremost horror writers – but if you are thinking this means something like Lovecraft, Bloch, or even Stephen King, think again. Ketchum rarely flirts with the supernatural. You won’t find any ghosts, werewolves or vampires – though he did once (She Wakes) unleash the Greek goddess Hecate. Nine times out of ten his monsters are all too human, and scarier for that. Ketchum pulls no punches anywhere in his prose; when the plot turns violent (and it will) we get the full in-your-face unexpurgated picture.

From the beginning, Ketchum’s writings have intrigued and repelled readers and reviewers. Ballantine Books, with much hesitation and trepidation, took a chance with his first novel Off Season in 1981 and was pleasantly surprised by its commercial success. Yet, the very same publisher turned down his next manuscript Ladies Night, a tale of a chemical spill that eliminates inhibitions against violence in women (and only in women) who are exposed to it. Ballantine cited its violent content as the reason for rejection. Competing publishers declined it, too. It was published only in 1997 after Ketchum’s success with other novels. Critics are of two minds about Ketchum. A reviewer in The Village Voice, hardly a bastion of social conservatism, dismissed his work as pornography. Yet he has won a string of writing awards, including the Bram Stoker Award, and he counts many accomplished authors, including Stephen King, among his fans. His harshest critics admit Ketchum writes well, even if they balk at his subject matter.

Jack doesn’t worry much about the negative reactions anymore, if he ever did. His sales and movie deals are enough to soothe any wounded feelings. Besides, Jack has something to say. He likes to tell us that we all have a dark side, and that the difference between monsters and the rest of us sometimes comes down only to circumstance.

Ketchum’s most successful novel to date is The Girl Next Door, which was made into a deeply disturbing movie (not the comedy of the same name) that Stephen King called a dark side Stand by Me. Based loosely on the very real Sylvia Likens case, the book and movie detail the abuse and eventual murder of a teenage girl by the suburban woman who took her in, by her sons, and by neighboring kids and teens. The protagonist of the novel, a neighbor boy, is basically a good kid, but is drawn into the abuse by the dark fascination of it all. He feels revulsion when the torture becomes extreme, but by then his own participatory guilt is an issue that deters him from seeking help.

As Dr. Jekyll learned, it does no good to try to repress the unsavory elements of our natures. They are only less under control when they do surface. We need to embrace our inner Hyde (or our inner Marquis de Sade, if you prefer non-fiction) in order to tame him. Perhaps if Sylvia’s neighbors had satisfied those appetites with books like Ketchum’s, at least one of them would not have fallen to the temptation of the real opportunity for sadism, and might have called the police.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Idiot Box

Television these days is no longer the “vast wasteland” bewailed by FCC chairman Newton N. Minow in 1961. There now are science channels, history channels, classic movie channels, all-news channels, cooking channels, and on and on. Nevertheless, by and large, we still consider an hour watching TV to be an hour wasted.

It is not clear that we should. Academic and IQ scores are higher in countries where people watch more TV. Within nations the pattern is more complex. Among poor people in the US, academic performance actually is positively correlated with TV-viewing in a straight line way. (See Barber, N. [2006], Is the Effect of National Wealth on Academic Achievement Mediated by Mass Media and Computers?) Yes, poor kids are better off watching more TV (which probably says less about the TV fare than about the real life alternative). Among middle-class and wealthy families the graph is bell shaped: there is a positive correlation between test scores and TV-viewing up to 3 hours of per day, and a negative correlation beyond 3 hours. Privileged kids who watch 3 hours per day outperform kids who watch 1 or 5.

So, perhaps we should give the much maligned “boob tube” its due. (Most TVs don’t use cathode ray tubes anymore, but there are channels which give the old moniker a new meaning.) We are not necessarily idiots for sitting in front of it. It is a sedentary way to pass time, however, so, just on general principles, we probably should get up and do something else occasionally, and I don’t mean sit in front of the computer. Playing baseball with friends, for example, not on Xbox but in the open air with real bats and bases, has some advantages. To steal a line from Bart Simpson, you won’t believe the quality of the graphics.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Sip from the Saucer

Following up on the last blog, it should be acknowledged that many people answer the question “Where are they?” with “Right here.” According to LiveScience, “A Roper poll found that nearly half of all Americans believe that alien craft have visited Earth, and an even larger percentage feel in their heart of hearts that the government is playing dumb about these cosmic callers.” The article does not try to explain why more Americans believe the government is covering up flying saucers than believe they exist.

There seems little common ground between UFO enthusiasts and skeptics. To understand why, it is worth a brief look at the most iconic UFO incident of all, the 1947 crash in Roswell, New Mexico, since it has all the elements of the entire UFO controversy: credible witnesses, flamboyantly self-promoting hucksters, cover-ups, conspiracy theories, and a possible mundane explanation that falls short of proof. The Roswell crash has been exploited and fictionalized so often that most of us have lost track of what parts of the tale are known facts, what are mere assertions, what are speculations, and what are outright fictions. Briefly appearing as a national news story in July 1947, it quickly faded into obscurity after the US Army Air Force dismissed the object as a weather balloon; it reemerged in the 1980s when a series of books, articles, and movies revived interest in the incident. By the 80s, many of the eyewitnesses had died; for the rest, 40 years had passed. Unsurprisingly, their accounts conflicted – even the accounts of those who say they saw nothing unusual. There consequently is a debate about the dates and sequence of events, so some may quibble with the details in the story below, but this broadly is what happened – or at least what is supposed to have happened.

Background

During World War 2 Allied fighter pilots over Europe repeatedly saw what appeared to be spherical craft moving at very high speed. They thought the objects might be German secret weapons, but the objects never acted in a hostile way. The pilots called them Foo Fighters. Allied analysts speculated they were false images created by the optical peculiarities of the canopies, but they didn’t really know. Occasional sightings continued after the war when the term UFO replaced Foo Fighter. The idea that these objects might be alien spacecraft soon began to circulate with the public. On June 24, 1947, businessman Kenneth Arnold, flying his own private plane over the Cascade Mountains, saw 9 objects moving “like saucers” in formation at extreme speed. The national news media picked up on the story and the term “flying saucer” was born. A rash of flying saucer sightings followed.

In 1947, Roswell Army Air Force Base was the site of the 509th Bomber Group, the nation’s (for that matter the world’s) only operational bomber group intended to carry atomic bombs. It consisted of B29s, which in the event of war would be dispersed to bases closer to potential targets. (The B29 had a target radius of 1900 miles.) A great deal of classified military research also was conducted in New Mexico at Alamogordo, White Sands, and, to some degree, Roswell.

The Event, True Believer’s Version:

On July 4 (possibly July 2), 1947 an alien spaceship soared over Roswell; perhaps the four alien crewmembers were curious about earth’s new nuclear stockpile. It headed northwest. The object was seen and heard by Mr. & Mrs. Wilmot, managers of a Roswell hardware store, as they sat on their front porch on Penn Street; they mentioned it to a local newspaper reporter a few days later and said it was shaped like the heel of a boot. 30 miles outside of town the spacecraft, possibly affected by defense radar, suffered a malfunction. An explosion tore a hole in the craft. Debris sprinkled down on the Foster Ranch, also known as the Debris Field. The saucer continued to fly over the desert, but lost altitude and crashed. This is the Crash Site – its precise location is a matter of dispute. Two of the aliens were killed on impact. One was badly injured and died later. The fourth died of its injuries, was shot by an army soldier, or is still alive, depending on the source.

Having tracked the craft on radar, army units arrived at the Crash Site almost immediately. So far, the military had kept a lid on news of the flying saucer crash. The army then removed the alien ship and bodies to a secure location.

Questioned years later, many people from Roswell remembered an area temporarily cordoned off by troops north of town, but nearly all were fuzzy about the date. Numerous former soldiers also remember being sent out to guard one or more desert locations, but few of these claim to have seen any wreckage and they, too, are fuzzy about the dates. A few civilians happened to be near the crash scene for one reason or another, however, and they do have specific recollections. The most credible of these witnesses is archaeologist and historian Professor Curry Holden from Texas Tech, who commonly spent his summers scouring the Southwest desert areas. Holden saw a large wedge-shaped object and peculiar-looking bodies. Military guards quickly shooed Holden and others away citing national security concerns; the guards warned them not to speak about what they had seen, and Holden obliged for many years. The military frequently chased after downed aircraft (including flying wing prototypes) and errant rockets from White Sands in the 40s and 50s, so the civilians didn’t immediately think “flying saucer.”

The Debris Field, the Press, and the Army Air Force’s Explanation

On July 5, 1947, sheep farmer “Mac” Brazel espied rubbish of some kind on the Foster Ranch (the Debris Field) and went to investigate. An area larger than a football field was covered with shredded metallic sheets, lightweight struts, and other smallish objects. He picked up some pieces and took them home. On July 6, while in Roswell on other business, he casually carried a box of the stuff into the office of Sheriff Wilcox. A reporter, Frank Joyce from The Roswell Daily Record, just happened to call the sheriff’s office right then, and he spoke on the phone to Brazel about his find. Wilcox called Roswell Army Air Force Base to report finding the debris. The response was quick. Jesse Marcel, the intelligence officer at the base, drove into town along with Sheridan Cavitt, and went home with Mac Brazel for the night. At 5 the next morning, they went out in a jeep from Brazel's house to inspect the Debris Field. Marcel and Cavitt picked up more samples and headed back to the base. The Army swiftly sent out a full recovery team with trucks, jeeps, and guards to the Debris Field to pick up whatever remained. The material was brought back to the RAAF Base.

Joyce, the newspaper reporter, tried to follow up on the story with the army. After repeated calls, Walter Haut, PR officer at the base, issued a press release saying a “flying disc” had been recovered. On July 8, The Roswell Daily Record ran its famous headline “RAAF Captures Flying Saucer on Ranch in Roswell Region.” The AP picked up the story which quickly went international. Phone lines to Roswell were flooded by calls to the air base, the sheriff’s office, and the local newspaper. An AP reporter tried to get to the Debris Field but was turned back by army guards. Meantime, back at the base, the debris was loaded into a B29 and flown to Fort Worth accompanied by Jesse Marcel; there it was examined by technical specialists flown in from Ohio. In Roswell, two army officers showed up at The Roswell Daily Record and retrieved Haut’s original press release, no copy of which currently exists. Haut was instructed not to communicate further with reporters and Mac Brazel was asked to remain on base for unknown reasons for about a week.

At 4:45 PM on the 8th at the Fort Worth air base, General Ramey ushered reporters into his office to see the debris, which he said had been identified firmly as a weather balloon. Photos were taken, including one of Jesse Marcel holding some foil. Marcel appeared angry about the press presentation though he didn’t speak to reporters. He said nothing publicly about the Roswell incident for the next 20 years that he remained in the service, but after he retired Major Marcel spoke up. He insisted that the wreckage shown to reporters in Fort Worth was not the original, but had been switched.

The story died immediately after the “weather balloon” explanation, and that pretty much was that. Every now and then some UFOlogist would question the official account, but the story didn't get real legs again until  the 1980s when Berlitz and Moore published The Roswell Incident. The book popularized the idea that there were two sites (Debris and Crash), not one. As the story became newsworthy again, many supposed witnesses came forward and further embellished the tale – such as the camper who claimed to have seen alien bodies and to have met an ET survivor, or the mortician who claimed he got a strange call from the base asking about the availability of children’s size coffins and then a second call from an army nurse who said she saw nonhuman bodies. There are credibility issues with most of these 80s stories. Not all. Brigadier General Exon, for example, recalled an officer in '47 pointing at sites from the air “where that thing we’ve been studying came down."

Cover-up

What intrigues so many UFOlogists is that the USAAF clearly lied -- repeatedly. There really was a conspiracy and a cover-up of something. Why did Haut issue the “flying disc” press release in the first place? (Believers say he simply told the truth.) Why all the urgency and secrecy about the debris recovery? Why keep Mac Brazel on base for a week? Why fly the wreckage off to Ft. Worth on a B29? This was not normal treatment for weather balloons which regularly were recovered without any fanfare – in fact the army gave a $25 bounty to anyone who brought one in. What are we to make of Marcel’s claim that the debris shown to reporters was not the material recovered at the site? Whatever landed on the Foster Ranch was not a weather balloon.

The Event, Skeptic’s Version:

In the 1990s at the urging of New Mexico Congressman Schiff, the USAF reopened the investigation. Most records from the base and the era were gone (it is normal to clean out military files no longer useful) and most of the witnesses were deceased, but the air force reached some conclusions.

On June 4, 1947 a large aluminized high altitude balloon was launched from Holloman air base in Alamogordo, NM. It was part of the top secret Project Mogul. In the late 40s, before the days of long range spy planes or surveillance satellites, the US was desperate to collect intelligence on what was going on in the USSR, particularly with regard to nuclear weapons development. The solution was high altitude balloons. The Mogul balloons carried high tech (for the day) electronic eavesdropping equipment. Something went wrong with the June 4 balloon and it disappeared from radar. The USAF concludes this is what fell on the Foster Ranch to be found by Mac Brazel on July 5. It explains the extraordinary security precautions during the recovery and the subsequent army cover-up. At the very least, the Mogul electronics were sequestered and Marcel was right about a switch of the materials shown to reporters in Fort Worth.

On July 4 (or 2), a military aircraft flew over the Wilmot house, perhaps banked at an angle that made its shape hard to make out. It didn’t crash. Neither did anything else. The USAF can find no record of anything that crashed anywhere in the area on the weekend of the 4th or in any reasonable time period prior. However, throughout the late 40s and 50s, the USAAF (later the USAF) did conduct experiments with ejector seats, prototype pressure suits, drone aircraft, and rockets; some experiments were dropped from high altitude balloons. The experiments employed anthropomorphic dummies and a few chimpanzees. Balloons and parachutes were at the mercy of winds, so the packages came down all over New Mexico. The air force surmises that witnesses saw the recovery of one or more of these experiments and (after 40 years) mixed up the dates – the “alien” bodies were dummies. Professor Holden, the most convincing witness, admitted he wasn’t certain about the date of his sighting. Holden, in his 90s when questioned, thought it was about the time of that Roswell kerfuffle, but he said it could have been anytime before 1952.

The question remains, why did Haut issue the flying disc statement? We don’t know, but it should be remembered that “flying saucer” was a term only a couple weeks old; it didn’t necessarily convey the popular image we have of one today. He might have meant it simply as an informal way of saying “UFO” which would have been a correct description at that point. On the other hand, the press release might have been a deliberate cover-up for Project Mogul – one that backfired when it drew so much avid press attention. Since Haut followed his orders not to talk about it anymore, and died before the story re-arose, we’ll never know.

Conclusion

UFO skeptics see the USAF report as one that answers all relevant questions satisfactorily (even if at this date absolute proof is elusive), so they see no reason to believe any tales about flying saucers. Believers see it as just another episode in an ongoing cover-up. Regardless of the truth, I understand the UFO Festival held in Roswell every 4th of July weekend is a really good party.


Roswell McD’s




Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Where Are They?

For more than 100 years the spaceships of science fiction have whisked among interstellar civilizations on missions of exploration, trade, war, romance, and adventure.

Such tales of sidereal derring-do prompted Enrico Fermi wistfully to ask his colleagues over lunch at Los Alamos one day in 1950, “Where are they?” He meant intelligent aliens. If they’re out there, shouldn’t we see or hear something? Enrico obviously did not take flying saucer sightings seriously, even though they were all the rage in 1950.

When you are as famous a scientist as Fermi, even a casual question is likely to get named after you, and this one is known as Fermi’s Paradox. Astronomer Frank Drake had no specific answer for Fermi, but in 1960 he wrote a formula to describe his lack of knowledge accurately. This is the Drake Equation:

N = R* x fp x ne x fℓ x fi x fc x L

The factors for the number of detectable galactic civilizations are the rate of star formation, the fraction of stars that have planets, the fraction of planets that are habitable, the fraction of those that actually develop life, the fraction that develop intelligent life, the fraction that develop a detectable technical civilization, and the length of time technical civilizations last.

Ever since 1960 scientists and amateurs alike have tried plugging numbers into this formula, and have come up with results as disparate as 1 and 50,000. One recent effort was by Duncan Forgan at the Royal Observatory in Edinburgh. He estimated a number for each variable based on current data. Forgan published his conclusions in the International Journal of Astrobiology.

Forgan’s answer is that there are 361 advanced civilizations in the Milky Way galaxy. His number presupposes that life can arise only under a narrow set of conditions and circumstances. He notes that if life can spread easily from one planet to another (carried perhaps by comets, meteorites, or asteroids) the number skyrockets, since life can exist in conditions where it wouldn’t form spontaneously. If this is the case, the number of civilizations is closer to 38,000.

361? I hear Fermi’s voice saying, “Where are they?” Forgan says that at 361 they are very thinly spaced in a galaxy 100,000 light years across. Even at 38,000, he adds, there is no guarantee of mutual contact. Perhaps not. At the larger number, though, one way contact seems pretty hard to avoid; even at the smaller number it is likely, especially since some of those aliens are bound to have had a substantial head start over humans at civilization. The earth has been flashing brighter than the sun in some frequencies ever since defense radars came on line more than 70 years ago. If ETs are doing the same, we should overhear some of their phone calls. So far there is silence.

Despite Forgan’s rigorous mathematical treatment of his data, he acknowledges the last few variables of Drake’s equation are still, at bottom, filled by guesses. Forgan knows more about the first few variables than I ever will, but it is my instinct that his guesses on the last few are wildly optimistic. So, therefore, is the number 361.

It’s a big universe, and I’ve little doubt that other self-important life-forms out there somewhere have posed the question, “Where are they?” Nonetheless, they may be long long ago in a galaxy far far away.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

In for a Pound

Spring is poised to spring, but the spring in my step needs some toning, I’m afraid. Like many of you out there, I start to accumulate kilograms sometime around Halloween. (I prefer kilograms to pounds simply because there are fewer of them – and I try to ignore the meaning of “kilo.”) Sometime around mid-January I dislike the image in the mirror more than usual, and begin the grim process of scaling back to October proportions. The October proportions are not ideal either, but they are an improvement.

Men usually aren’t as open about the struggle with weight as are women, if only because we don’t want to risk publicly stating an intention and then failing at it. As with so many other things, we prefer to sweat it in private. (We also tend to be a little more generous with ourselves when setting weight targets, but we do set targets.) For this reason, it is the rare men’s magazine that sports such an arch-Cosmo cover-teaser as “10 Easy Steps to Losing 20 Pounds.” The publishers know we’re more likely to avoid than buy a magazine with such a cover. It’s just as well, because there are no “10 Easy Steps.” There is one and only one method that works: eat fewer calories than you burn. Eat less and exercise more. Losing weight requires being tired and hungry. It works. Guaranteed. It also sucks.

Americans, of course, enjoy playing the blame game, preferably in the courts. It’s not my fault, it’s those damn restaurants who give too big servings! (We all know how waiters stick funnels in our mouths and force the food in.) It’s the fast food places! It’s the soft drink manufacturers! It’s the candy bar machine vendors which don’t have healthy snacks! (Never mind that dried fruit and granola bars pack as many calories as candy.) The internet makes us sedentary! Personally, I’m considering suing furniture manufacturers for making couches so soft and comfy that I sit on them too much – it is precisely the same logic. I think the fault lies not in our four-star restaurants but in ourselves.

Do I have any advice at all other then “be tired and hungry”? Yes, actually. As long as you’re eating less than you would like, at least eat what you like. Choose rabbit food only if you happen to like rabbit food. “Healthy” foods are caloric, too, after all; they are good for you in ways other than calories, of course, but it’s probably more important just to drop weight.

Now, to clean the grill so I can barbeque tonight. Just kidding: I never clean my grill.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Jersey Lore

While the rest of the world (north of the equator anyway) prefers to celebrate the arrival of Spring this month, here in New Jersey on the second Saturday we have a holiday of a somewhat more dubious character: Peeing Day. Yes, really. It commemorates the Battle of Princeton in 1777, which is among the handful of battles George Washington actually won. (George was better at just barely escaping catastrophe than he was at winning, though this talent shouldn’t be underestimated.) He gave the main British force under Cornwallis the slip at Trenton and struck instead at the much smaller British garrison under Mahwood in Princeton, NJ. Mahwood put up a very hard fight nonetheless, but in the end was forced to retreat. It seems that many of the Continentals encouraged the redcoats on their way by the method which gives the day its name. I can’t imagine that American forces were anywhere near close enough to the British for this to have been an effective weapon of war, but sometimes a gesture alone counts for something.

Revolutionary War buffs will note that the Battle of Princeton took place on January 3, not on a second Saturday in March, and they are correct. Until 1884, Peeing Day was commemorated on January 3. As you can imagine, however, certain aspects of the battle reenactments performed as part of the celebration are often a bit…well…chilly in January. So, the date was changed to something more comfortable.

Peeing Day was suspended altogether only once. That was in 1918: the Anglo-American alliance and all that.