2014-03-24-MarchMadnessClass

The above is the Huffington Post’s attempt at humor. I suppose one has to be squarely in the publication’s readership demographic to find the graphic even remotely humorous.

Forgive me if I have a hard time relating to travails of “tardy housekeepers,” “talkative cabbies” or, alas, “gluten.”

Curmudgeonly sort that I am, the bit comes across as smarmy and irritating, much like the vast majority of those who read the Huffington Post, or, at least, those who post comments on website material.

Smug and self-righteous are two terms that come to mind when reading the rantings of Huff Po regulars. That, and self-important.

As such, perhaps it’s not surprising that the Huff Po’s content is overwhelmingly shallow, narcissistic and materialistic. It’s editorial content possesses the nutritional equivalent of Wonder Bread smeared with marshmallow fluff, and is about as appealing.

William F. Buckley once famously quipped, “I am obliged to confess I should sooner live in a society governed by the first two thousand names in the Boston telephone directory than in a society governed by the two thousand faculty members of Harvard University.”

Likewise, I’d find conversation with 100 readers of The Hockey News infinitely more compelling than that of an equal number of purveyors of Huffington Post. It would certainly be easier to engage in an educated discourse.

Breton village

The French language has long been held sacred in France, which has led hard feelings among groups within the country whose first tongue is something other than the lingua franca.

France is home to more than 2 million individuals who speak regional languages such as Alsatian, Breton and Corsican, but the French government has refused to change its constitution, which states that “the language of the Republic is French.”

So while France actually signed the European Charter of Regional and Minority Languages – adopted in 1992 under the auspices of the Council of Europe to protect and promote historical regional and minority languages in Europe – the French government has never ratified it.

As a result, the nation’s regional languages have failed to receive support required by the charter.

In fact, the policies of the Paris government have had the deliberate effect of greatly weakening the prevalence of native languages in France that are not “French.”

The second-class status afford languages other than French has not set well in regions where regional tongues are still prevalent, such as Brittany, the Basque country and Corsica.

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calvin and hobbes library book

Every so often, usually during a particularly slow news cycle, one comes across a story of a literary desperado finally returning an overdue library book checked out years, perhaps even decades, earlier.

One such incident occurred last summer, when an anonymous library patron returned “The Real Book About Snakes” to the Champaign County Library in Urbana, Ohio, along with a note of apology and $299.30 in cash to cover the fine.

“Sorry I’ve kept this book so long but I’m a really slow reader!” the culprit wrote in a message to the library. “I’ve enclosed my fine of $299.30 (41 years – 2 cents a day). Once again, my apologies!!”

What makes this example unusual is that the outlaw took it upon himself (anonymous or not, I’m betting the ranch that any book on snakes was checked out by a male patron) to bite the bullet and pay the fine.

Most always, libraries receiving a volume decades past due end up waiving late fees, realizing that fine exceeds the actual cost of the book in question, and also understanding that the return of a work 30, 40 or 50 years past due is more likely to generate good publicity if the library graciously renounces penalties.

That was the case in another example last summer, when the University of Wisconsin’s library received a hardcover copy of “Selected Papers on Philosophy” by William James by mail.

Included with the book was a note indicating that the work had been checked out by one of the writer’s two parents, both of whom had attended the school, although it was unclear which one had borrowed the book on Jan. 13, 1938, according to the Wisconsin State Journal.

The book’s return slip indicated that patrons would be levied a fine of two cents a day for each day overdue, but the family didn’t have to pony up any cold hard cash as the library no longer collected fees on overdue books. Were the old policy still in effect, the fine would have totaled more than $550.

All of which leads me to a confession of my own: I, too, am a biblio-scofflaw.

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Pity the poor folk whose job it is to market Hot Pockets, those ubiquitous microwaveable turnovers filled with one or more types of cheese, meat, or vegetables.

For years, Hot Pockets were a staple of comedian Jim Gaffigan’s standup routine (see above), in which he effectively ensured that a generation of consumers would associate the food item with indigestion, diarrhea and a variety of other ailments.

There’s likely no amount of money or promotional effort that Nestle, which produces Hot Pockets, could ever come up with to overcome the effectiveness of Gaffigan’s biting ridicule, and now the company is facing another PR nightmare.

Nestle is voluntarily recalling an unspecified number of “Philly Steak” and “Croissant Crust Philly Steak and Cheese” Hot Pockets because they could contain meat that is unfit for human consumption, according to the USDA.

Gaffigan’s gag, of course, is that they were never fit for human consumption in the first place.

Anyhoo, nearly 9 million pounds of beef products were recalled last week by Rancho Feeding Corp. after regulators said it processed diseased and unsound animals without a full inspection, according to the Associated Press.

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leonard l. bleeker

Old-time newspapers were notorious for printing articles that were long on fanciful stories but often short on verifiable facts.

As such, many curious stories that appeared in papers a century or more ago have to be read with a skeptical eye. Readers then, as today, would view information in printed form at face value, when in reality it was a fraud, whether purposeful or accidental.

In fairness to the folks of the past, researching the validity of printed information was a good bit harder.

Not only was there no Internet to employ for fact-checking, but books were much scarcer, especially among the lower classes, libraries were an anomaly outside big cities and competition among newspapers often meant that outlandish stories were run “as is” and sometimes even further embellished, to get a leg up on rivals.

So when I came across the following story in the July 26, 1899, edition of the Fairfield News and Herald, a Winnsboro, S.C., newspaper, it both caught my attention and raised my suspicions.

The death of Leonard B. Bleeker aged 72 years which recently occurred at Yates Centre, Kas., has revealed a case of self-sacrifice seldom heard of outside the domain of fiction. Three years ago Bleeker went to that country peddling cheap articles and, too old and weary to proceed farther, a kind hearted farmer took him in and cared for him until he died. To the family which befriended him he told the story of his life, reserving for the grave the specific names of persons and localities. He stated that in 1861 he left a wife and five children in Michigan and answered the first call for volunteers. The fortunes of war were against him and for months he lay a prisoner in Andersonville prison. For some reason he was led to believe that a certain other batch of prisoners would soon be exchanged. Among them was a dying man and the two comrades exchanged names and military designations. The soldier died and the death was reported as that of Leonard B. Bleeker, and is so recorded in the war department. The real Bleeker was released after a time, rejoined his regiment and served until the close of the war without communicating with his family. Then he went back and found his wife married to another man. He ascertained that his children were well cared for and then left the community without revealing his identity. Throughout his life he carefully guarded his secret and since going to Yates Centre, was often urged to apply for a pension, but stoutly refused. Even when near death he would not reveal the location of his former home or permit anyone to communicate with old associate(s). He was a man of more than ordinary education and the truth of his story or the possession of a noble purpose in his long sacrifice cannot be doubted.

Indeed, the entire story seems utterly fanciful to us today. But a few things to consider:

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italian prisoners of war on the eastern front

From the standpoint of the average soldier, there have been some pretty miserable military alliances over the past century.

The Australians and New Zealanders who ended up at Gallipoli in World War I at the behest of the British; Newfoundlanders cut down at the Somme, also fighting for the British; and most Arab soldiers who found themselves going up against Israelis between 1948 and 1973, would all have likely wondered what their nations had got them into.

But probably no group of Allies was more poorly served in the 20th century than those of Nazi Germany.

Hitler, who was only too happy to feed his own divisions into the seemingly endless maw of death that was World War II in his attempt to take over Europe, had absolutely no compunctions about frittering away the troops of collaborating nations.

Hundreds of thousands of Italian, Hungarian and Romanian soldiers, for example, perished in miserable conditions on the Eastern Front alongside their German partners.

One of the more striking accounts of this lesser-known aspect of the war was written by Eugenio Corti, an Italian officer who died earlier this month at 93.

Corti is best known for The Red Horse, a 1,000-page novel based on his experience during and after World War II. First published in 1983, it has gone through 25 editions.

But in his 1947 work Few Returned: Twenty-Eight Days on the Russian Front, Winter 1943-1943, Corti vividly described the utter hopeless of a soldier’s life on the Russian Front during the war.

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crusades

It’s taken more than five years of blogging, but I’ve finally come across a spammer who has grudgingly earned my respect.

A recent search of my spam folder showed the usual array of half-assed unsolicited emails, ranging from “Toronto Escorts” (sorry, I’m not an “escort” kind of guy and if I were, I wouldn’t travel 1,500 miles to be “escorted”), to sites for cosmetic surgery loans and cellulite diets.

And, of course, there were the usual abusers of English grammar: “My family members all the time say that I am killing my time here at net, however I know I am getting familiarity daily by reading thes fastidious content.”

But tucked amid the above detritus was this gem, appended on to a post I had written about the gruesome reality of the American Civil War: “This takes into account the view of the Latin Church and medieval contemporaries such as Saint Bernard of Clairvaux that gave equal precedence to comparable military campaigns against pagans, heretics and many undertaken for political reasons. This wider definition includes the persecution of heretics in Southern France, the political conflict between Christians in Sicily, the Christian re-conquest of Spain and the conquest of heathens in the Baltic.”

Oh, this was still spam; the comment came from an individual promoting a Spanish-language herbal remedy website.

But it was several notches above the usual unsolicited monstrosities that are the bane of electronic communication.

Given the nature of the comment and the fact that it had to do with war, if not the War Between the States, I decided to attempt to seek the source of the comment.

It took just a few moments to discover the comment was taken directly from Wikipedia’s definition of the Crusades, specifically, the 20th century description of the Crusades as inclusive of all military efforts against either foes in the Middle East or Europe, at the direction of the Papacy.

So, it appeared, someone had taken the time to cut and paste this comment, rather than randomly generating barely decipherable text – think “All your base are belong to us” – or, as another spammer did, sending a useless shill: “Coach Jerseys – 5850 yuan to 3510 yuan.” (I’ll get back to you after I get my yuan-to-dollars converter fixed.)

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colliers encyclopedia yearbook

A wise man once said “Teachers believe they have a gift for giving; it drives them with the same irrepressible drive that drives others to create a work of art or a market or a building.”

I am not that wise man; I have enough trouble trying to shepherd my own children in their studies.

Because my kids are products of a divorced household, my time with them is limited and the lure of video games, television and iPods at their other house has proven, more often than not, stronger than dad’s admonitions.

In fairness to them, had I spent the majority of my time as a youngster in a house essentially filled with children my own age and stocked with more games and toys than a small retail department store chain, it’s likely that reading and studying would have been well down on my list of priorities, as well.

Heck, growing up my home featured neither an army of co-conspirators nor a legion of amusements and I still avoided studying whenever possible, usually hightailing it out the door for the closest fishing pond or ball field.

My one saving grace was that I loved to read. Pretty much whatever I could find I would at least pick up and attempt to peruse.

This proved particularly useful when, as a youth, I would find myself banished to my room for various transgressions. (As I got older, my mother finally tired of wearing out her arm wielding the “spanking spoon” and decided exile a more suitable punishment.)

When I was around the age of 9 my parents received a collection of Collier’s encyclopedia yearbooks, years 1955 through 1973. They’d probably received them from friends who had relocated and didn’t want to lug the large, heavy tomes. My guess is that we must have gotten them in 1974, judging from the date of the last issue.

These were set up in a small bookshelf in my room, which proved convenient during my expulsion.

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santa logo2Brand Books are often used by corporations and other large entities to highlight inside details, goals and marketing techniques.

Created to help bring consistency to the way a brand is communicated, the goal, to paraphrase one Brand Book, is to provide the necessary tools to present the brand correctly and consistently in any and all forms of communication.

They feature a collection of the brand elements and a detailed description of “the brand.”

Brand Books influence every marketing campaign, communication and product. By covering every aspect of the brand from mission statement and logos to color palettes and typography guidelines, it serves as a strategic guideline.

Brand Books are often, but not always, created by advertising firms, and, not surprisingly, tend to be riddled with ad jargon.

To that end, United Kingdom communication consultants The Quiet Room has spoofed its own profession by creating a Brand Book for Santa Claus, defining Father Christmas’s “entire being as if he were dreamt up by a team of obsessive brand ‘experts,’’ according to PSFK.com.

“The result is the *Santa* Brand Book, which spoofs branding strategies used by companies all around the globe. Some prime examples you can find within the book include a meaningless mission statement, acronyms, excessive jargon, obligatory diagrams, and official style guides for the Santa ‘brand,’” adds the PSFK site.

As the *Santa* Brand Book’s cover states: “*Santa* is a Concept, not an idea,” adding, “It begins with the Hiss of Power and ends with the Ah of Surprise.”

You can view the entire *Santa* “Brand Book” here. It’s not only good for a few laughs, but offers an interesting and instructive insight into how major advertising agencies operate.

(Above: Page taken from *Santa* Brand Book, a spoof created by The Quiet Room, a UK advertising agency. Click to embiggen.)

Bay Psalm Book

A Colonial-era tome, auctioned last week in New York, easily set a new record as the world’s most expensive printed book.

A first-edition copy of the 1640 Bay Psalm Book was sold at Sotheby’s New York for $14.2 million, breaking the previous mark of $11.5 million, set in 2010, when a copy of John James Audubon’s “The Birds of America” was auctioned.

The Bay Psalm Book, one of 11 surviving examples, was sold by Boston’s famed Old South Church.

The Church sold the Bay Psalm Book from its collection to cover the cost of building repairs and to fund future endeavors after taking a vote of its congregants in 2012, according to a statement issued by its senior minister, Nancy Taylor.

The book is one of two copies owned by the church, which dates to 1669.

The Bay Psalm Book is one of the rarest books in the world and among the finest surviving copies of original 1,700 that were printed, according to Reuters.

The Bay Psalm Book was published in Cambridge, Mass., by the Puritan leaders of the Massachusetts Bay Colony.

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