My Old Kentucky Homesite

Archive for the ‘Holidays’ Category

Two Dollars on Wallberg to Show Up

Posted by Larry Wallberg on 04/05/2010

Sorry I’m late. My wife and I had company this weekend, so I didn’t have much of a chance to get my dander up over the fact that the Lexington Herald-Leader wasted about half its pages on mumbo-jumbo stories about some holiday that nobody ever heard of. Instead, I spent the last few days partaking of Kentucky. Our party went for a scenic drive, took a tour of a bourbon distillery, and — of course — spent an afternoon watching thoroughbreds run fast while people in fancy outfits yelled at them.

I’m not much of a horse-player. However, since I found myself at the races during Holy Week, I decided I’d better follow the advice of a real gambler, my grandfather’s friend Blaise Pascalowitz.

You must wager. It is not optional. A day at the races is just a sunburn for nothing if you do not take a chance. (Also, don’t forget to treat yourself to some tootsie-frootsie ice cream.) Could you lose enough to keep you from buying a $5 racetrack beer? Yes; but you must wager. It is not optional. You are embarked. Which will you choose then? Let us see. Since you must choose, let us see which interests you least. You have two things to lose, some of your money and the rest of your money; and two things to stake, a picture of Andrew Jackson (who, believe me, was no raving beauty that you need to carry around his image in your pocket) and the assurance that you’ll have enough to purchase a watered-down Bud Light. You must of necessity choose. This is one point settled. But what of your happiness? Let us weigh the gain and the loss in wagering that your horse will win. Let us estimate these two chances. If you gain, you gain all your money back plus maybe a few extra bucks if it was a longshot; if you lose, you kiss, what?, twenty dollars goodbye . Hell, it’s not like you’re gonna die before there’s another race.

The rest of Pascalowitz’s advice is meaningless, because he never won a dime in his life.

So I was torn. On the one hand, I could pick my ponies by using a highly mathematical system that involved adding up every number I could find on the racing form, dividing the total by the amount of dollars I’ve made since 1997, and factoring out my allergy to hay. On the other hand, I could just go with the time-tested Eeny Method. Or, if I had three hands, I could fold two of them in prayer, and leave my fate to the emptiness above.

Eventually, I decided to employ the HTSLMKH (pronounced Hotz Lemkhah, which might be Yiddish for “mazel tov”) Principle. Some scholars believe the far-fetched theory that the capitalized word is an acronym for “Hey, That Sounds Like My Kinda Horse.”

Regardless of etymology (and entomolgy, too, for those who are bugged by puns), I’m going to give all my readers a chance to experience for themselves the thrill of a genuine Kentucky racing day. Below, in alphabetical order, are listed four horses from each race I saw. One horse was the winner; two others were selected at random from among the non-winners; the fourth is the loser I bet on. The races were real, so it’s not fair Googling to find out the results.

The Rules: For each race, write the letter of the horse you believe was the winner, followed by the letter of the nag you think stole my two bucks. You earn a point for each animal identified correctly. The person with the score that comes closest to 20 will earn eternal salvation or a leftover Peep, whichever lasts longer.

Race 1: (A) Nacho Man, (B) Speed Demon, (C) Weekend Wildcat, (D) Wetzel
Race 2: (A) Despite the Odds, (B) Hull, (C) Southern Exchange, (D) Taqarub
Race 3: (A) Flying Warrior, (B) Mr. Realistic, (C) Straight Talk, (D) W.W. Lady’s Man
Race 4: (A) Intercoastal, (B) Motown Shuffle, (C) Old Man Buck, (D) Runaway Banjo
Race 5: (A) Harpoon Hattie, (B) Heaven’s Grace, (C) Hit It Rich, (D) Wicked Ravnina
Race 6: (A) Argue, (B) Kantstopdancin, (C) Sheza Sweet Lemon, (D) Smarty’s Dream
Race 7: (A) Gypsy Baby, (B) Magic Broomstick, (C) Paradise Bound, (D) Tempo Approved
Race 8: (A) Fish, (B) Flight, (C) Krypton, (D) Sporty
Race 9: (A) King Ledley, (B) Lost Aptitude, (C) Nordic Truce, (D) Strike the Tiger
Race 10: (A) Dignified Air, (B) Everybody Lies, (C ) Lady Etienne, (D) Laura’s Cat Tales

I’ll add my commentary below when entries start to arrive.

[And they’re off. Evo broke wind sharply as first out of the starting gate. Srsny pulled ahead on the inside track. GoingLikeSixty went like eighty-divided-by-twenty to keep pace at the rear. SI rose quickly and looked for a hole, but he couldn’t find one. Chappy thought she hadn’t a prayer, but she collared the rest of the flock, and soon lorded it over the leader. Des scoped out a good spot for himself, but turned in a borderline performance.]

Posted in Holidays, New to Kentucky, Useless Lists | 17 Comments »

Don’t Believe Kentucky’s Ill? A Proof!

Posted by Larry Wallberg on 04/01/2010

Augggh! Is there a witch-doctor in the house? A few weeks ago, many of us non-troglodytes were up in arms about the changes made to Texas educational standards by the wingnut-dominated Board of Education in Austin. Now, those revisions look positively benign next to the new standards adopted yesterday in — where else? — Kentucky. Here’s a small sampling of the sickening thoroughbred horseshit that will be shoveled into students’ heads starting next September:

(1) Poor dinosaurs will no longer be referred to as “prehistoric animals.” Instead, all the critters that lived millions and millions of years ago are to be designated as “antediluvian creatures.” Board member Lola Firpo wanted to get this standard through, and she got it. But she tried to mask her obviously Creationist terminology by saying, “Most people use ‘antediluvian’ as a synonym for old. ‘Prehistoric’ isn’t correct, because dinosaurs like T. Rex and that one with the three horns, I forget its name, must have a history, because otherwise we wouldn’t know about them. So I tried to think of a good descriptive word that we could also add to vocabulary requirements. ‘Antediluvian’ just came gushing into my head.”

(2) Remember the Founding Fathers? You can probably name a few of them without wracking your brain: Jefferson, Madison, Hamilton, Adams, Washington, Franklin. Did you mention Jesus? As of next year, Kentucky’s school kids will essentially be taught that the so-called “son of god” was one of the sires of our country (which I guess makes Yahweh America’s grandfather). Rollo Piaf, a 9th-grade history teacher and new Board Member, sang to reporters: “Even those few of our citizens who don’t consider our country to be a Christian nation, will readily admit that the philosophy of Jesus Christ was the most significant factor in forming the Founders’ idea of a Constitutional republic. I mean, look at Thomas Jefferson. He was a famous atheist, but he wrote a whole book praising Jesus’s thought. So I think it would be criminal not to teach that to our students.”

(3) In all science classes, when the work of Sir Isaac Newton is discussed, students must learn that he wrote: “Gravity explains the motions of the planets, but it cannot explain who set the planets in motion. God governs all things and knows all that is or can be done. Is any other explanation possible?” Lori Apfol (who, ironically, is a Jew) justified this standard by announcing, “Our Kentucky education system is one of the finest in the nation, kinehora. But last time I looked, none of our kids was as smart as Isaac Newton. So nu? If God was kosher even to him, who am I to have the chutzpah to say that the Lord’s not good enough for our fartootst students?”

(4) Looking for a mention of evolution or Charles Darwin? Don’t attend biology classes in Kentucky’s public schools. The Board recognized that the basic principles of life had to be taught if our state’s students were to be competitive with college applicants from more enlighted parts of the country. But at the suggestion of member Ira Pollof, “evolution” will now be known as “the planned system of genetic changes” and Charles Darwin will be referred to only as “a small-time theorist from England.” On the other hand, teachers will still be permitted to call Genesis “the Controversy.”

(5) Forget making a distinction between ancient Egyptians, Babylonians, Greeks, and Romans. Citing the “scholarly” (ha!) writings of one Prof. Ollia (Kentucky’s hardy Secretary of History from ’14-’41), the bible-thumping majority agreed that all civilizations before the alleged birth of Christ will be lumped together as “ancient people.” Ollia’s view, now adopted into our state standards, was voiced loudly by the impassioned fundamentalist preacher/educator, Board member Olaf Porli. “Most a them ol’-timey pagan guys was as alike as two turds from a catfish. But nothin’ them folks ever said or done or even thunk was god’s honest truth.” One moderate Republican at the session tried to point out that we should see those ancients as fore-runners. But Porli immediately responded, “A course they’s furriners. So why does Kentucky’s innocent child’n need to hear that kind a ignorant, un-American crap? If you ast me, what goes on elsewhere in this world is none a are goddang bidness.”

(6) Originated by a Medieval Catholic priest named Fr. LaPolio, the mind-crippling concept that the number 3 is “special” will be touched on in elementary arithmetic classes. Students will be required to learn multiplication and division by 3 before being taught how to do the same operations by 1, 2, 4, 5, or any other integers. However, multiplying 3 x 222 will be expressly forbidden.

(7) Of Mice and Men is being dropped from the 10th-grade literature curriculum. Pilar Lofo, the only Latina on the Board, claimed that the Spanish word for “mice” is also Caribbean slang for “Christians with small penises.” She also pointed out that the author wrote disrespectfully about the two main characters, George and Lenny, who were “obviously” symbolic references to God (same initial) and Jesus (since “J” and “L” are separated by only one letter, which, through no coincidence, happens to be the initial of “King of Kings”). English students will instead be required to read the graphic novelization of the “Left Behind” series or watch the New Testament on the American Bible Channel.

Lexington needs a Paul Revere to ride through the streets shouting, “The Christians are coming! The Christians are coming!” We certainly have enough fast horses in the area, although the jockey would probably have to wear a Wildcats jersey if he wanted to get people’s attention. Perhaps Kentucky native George Clooney could get himself an outfit from the revolutionary era and do something to really make us proud. Until he does, though, our state’s officials will continue acting like fools – even when April 1st isn’t the date. O, for a pill!

Posted in Holidays, Idiots, New to Kentucky, Random Rants, Seriously Silly | 32 Comments »

Indifference Is a Many-Splendored Thing

Posted by Larry Wallberg on 02/13/2010

In case you haven’t already been glutted with ersatz love on TV and at the mall, I want to remind you that tomorrow is Valentine’s Day.

Valentine, as everyone knows, is the patron saint of goo. But you may not realize that there are actually two different canonized martyrs with that name. One, according to legend, was a Roman physician and priest, who was beaten and beheaded on February 14 many years ago along the Flaminian Way. The other was the Bishop of Terni, who, according to conflicting legend, was beaten and beheaded on February 14 many years ago along the Flaminian Way. You might have noticed a certain similarity between these two myths, and jumped to the conclusion that they’re merely variants of the same story. Maybe they are, but it is possible that the same exact thing happened twice, because it’s a well-known fact that bandits in those early days could become pretty violent when travelers refused to part with their Whitman Samplers. Whatever you believe: If I were you, I’d wait until Monday to go for a stroll along the Flaminian Way.

To find the real origin of Lovey-Dovey day, we have to look at February 15, the annual date of an ancient Roman fertility feast called Lupercalia. That’s not to be confused with Lou Percalia, one of the characters from The Godfather,  a sub-capo killed in the early pages when he was overwhelmed by assassins who skipped to him. “Perky” had absolutely nothing to do with St. Valentine’s Day, because, on the morning of the massacre, he arrived at work inappropriately prepared, under the mistaken impression that each killer was supposed to dress as Cupid.

No, Lupercalia was a randy old holiday honoring Lupercus, the god of overpriced flowers. His special day was celebrated by lots of hoo-ha, some of it sexual in nature. Christians realized that there was no way the rabble was going to give up an occasion dedicated specifically to physical fun, so the church fathers stole and adapted the idea. They watered it way down, though, by scrawling it inside a sacred heart on their sacred calendar, and blaming its origin on one or both of the guys who got mugged on the highway. The name change worked out particularly well for Rodgers and (not sacred) Hart, who didn’t have to write a song called “My Funny Lupercalian.”

Despite its impressive background, Valentine’s Day doesn’t appeal to everyone. Some people wonder: Why let the greeting card companies decide that on a given date each year you’ll suddenly be overwhelmed by a desire to send a sweet message to the person who spends a lot of her time criticizing the way you dust?

However, the main objection to the day is that it’s too exclusive for our egalitarian society. What should you do about all those people you merely like. Don’t they deserve a little recognition, too? Is it their fault you can’t get really excited about them? What makes you think you’re such a prize?

But even that kind of holiday would entail too much activity for the kinds of festivals I like: blissing out all day with Sudoku puzzles, and then sitting down at the table for some serious overeating.

So, in the hope of creating an ideal holiday for everyone, I’d like to suggest a sensible alternative to Valentine’s Day. Wouldn’t it be nice to have an occasion each year for acknowledging those people about whom you’re totally apathetic? Just think of how many folks in your life fit into that category! I bet you don’t get too worked up one way or the other over the kid who asks you if you want paper or plastic at the grocery store. When was the last time you had a powerful surge of emotion for, say, your dentist? What about your spouse’s cousin in Cleveland. Or, for that matter, anyone in Cleveland?

We could call the new holiday: I Don’t Care About You and You Don’t Care About Me, But Here’s Some Ridiculously Expensive Roses” Day. I suggest you find someone about whom you have no feelings at all. Take him or her to dinner. But sit at separate tables. If you’re really concerned with observing the true meaing of the day, you and your unloved one could even go to two different restaurants. Synchronize your watches to make sure you don’t arrive at the same time. In absentia, sing each other songs like “What I Did for Apathy” or “You’ve Lost That Unenthusiastic Feeling,” or even “I Didn’t Leave Anything in San Francisco.”

And while we’re on the subject, please accept this candy heart from me that says: “Be Somebody Else’s.”

Posted in Holidays | 10 Comments »

Homesite Puzzler #2: Presidents Day Quiz

Posted by Larry Wallberg on 02/11/2010

Nowadays, our elected officials miss no opportunity to spout pieties. It would be a secular miracle, indeed, to find an American politician who had anything negative to say about religion. This situation was not always so, however.

Monday is Presidents Day (and please note that there is no apostrophe anywhere in the holiday’s name). I know I’m four days early with this puzzler, but I want to give you a big head start on your celebrations. I do this as a holiday gift to my readers because you’ll all probably be too busy over the weekend honoring our historic leaders in the traditional American way: by trading pictures of them for sale items at the mall.

Also, you may need a little time to work your way through this quiz on American Presidents and their ideas about religion. Those of you who actually know something about our country’s history may be able to use their knowledge to figure out many of the answers. But I’m confident that, even if you ‘ve seen some of these questions before, you won’t get 100%. Hell, I didn’t — and I created this goddamned quiz.

Give yourself 5 points for every item you get right. [Note: You can find the correct answers appended as the first comment to this post. But no peeking!)

1. Who said:

I do not believe in the divinity of Christ, and there are many other of the postulates of the orthodox creed to which I cannot subscribe.

A. Grover Cleveland
B. Franklin Pierce
C. William Howard Taft
D. Rutherford B. Hayes

2. Which two presidents are quoted here?

[O]f course like every other man of intelligence and education I do believe in organic evolution. It surprises me that at this late date such questions should be raised.

Well, it’s a theory, it is a scientific theory only, and it has in recent years been challenged in the world of science and is not yet believed in the scientific community to be as infallible as it once was believed. But if it was going to be taught in the schools, then I think that also the biblical theory of creation, which is not a theory, but the biblical story of creation, should also be taught.

A. Franklin D. Roosevelt and George W. Bush
B. Woodrow Wilson and Ronald Reagan
C. John F. Kennedy and George H. W. Bush
D. Richard Nixon and Jimmy Carter

3. George W. Bush said:

I, in the state of Texas, had heard a lot of discussion about a faith-based initiative eroding the important bridge between church and state.

Two of our previous leaders knew the difference between a bridge and a wall. Which presidents said:

Leave the matter of religion to the family altar, the church and the private school supported entirely by private contributions. Keep the church and state forever separate.

Whatever one’s religion in his private life may be, for the officeholder, nothing takes precedence over his oath to uphold the Constitution and all its parts — including the First Amendment and the strict separation of church and state.

A. Ulysses S. Grant and John F. Kennedy
B. William McKinley and Bill Clinton
C. Theodore Roosevelt and Franklin D. Roosevelt
D. James Garfield and Calvin Coolidge

4. Which presidents could have had the following debate?

We should live our lives as though Christ were coming this afternoon.

The Christian god is a three-headed monster; cruel, vengeful, and capricious … One only needs to look at the caliber of people who say they serve him. They are always of two classes: fools and hypocrites.

A. George W. Bush and James Madison
B. Jimmy Carter and Thomas Jefferson
C. George H. W. Bush and Abraham Lincoln
D. Ronald Reagan and John Adams

5. Who said:

I have seldom met an intelligent person whose views were not narrowed and distorted by religion.

A. James Buchanan
B. Franklin Pierce
C. Herbert Hoover
D. Martin Van Buren

6. Thomas Paine’s Common Sense and The American Crisis were arguably the most important writings of the Revolutionary War period. Yet, two presidents disagreed about Paine’s heritage. Which presidents referred to him in the following ways:

[He] needs no monument made with hands; he has erected a monument in the hearts of all lovers of liberty.

… that filthy little atheist

A. Thomas Jefferson and Richard Nixon
B. James Monroe and Ronald Reagan
C. James Madison and Harry Truman
D. Andrew Jackson and Theodore Roosevelt

7. What president said the following, and what was the occasion?

In this way we are reaffirming the transcendence of religious faith in America’s heritage and future.

A. George W. Bush on the funding of faith-based initiatives
B. Abraham Lincoln on the words “In God We Trust” being engraved on coins
C. James K. Polk on the spread of Protestantism as a result of our “manifest destiny”
D. Dwight D. Eisenhower on “Under God” being added to the Pledge of Allegiance

8. Who said:

I don’t know that atheists should be considered as citizens, nor should they be considered as patriots. This is one nation under God.

A. George W. Bush
B. Franklin D. Roosevelt
C. George H. W. Bush
D. Theodore Roosevelt

9. Which president once told reporters:

I am a Christian, and I am a devout Christian. I believe in the redemptive death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. I believe that that faith gives me a path to be cleansed of sin and have eternal life.

A. Barack Obama
B. Bill Clinton
C. Jimmy Carter
D. Richard Nixon

10. Which president’s attitude about religion is expressed by:

Religious bondage shackles and debilitates the mind and unfits it for every noble enterprise, every expanded prospect.

A. John Quincy Adams
B. James Monroe
C. Warren G. Harding
D. James Madison

11. Who said:

I am tolerant of all creeds. Yet if any sect suffered itself to be used for political objects I would meet it by political opposition. In my view church and state should be separate, not only in form, but fact. Religion and politics should not be mingled.

A. John Quincy Adams
B. Millard Fillmore
C. Franklin Pierce
D. Martin Van Buren

12. Which two presidents might have had this debate about morality:

The truth is, politics and morality are inseparable. And as morality’s foundation is religion, religion and politics are necessarily related. We need religion as a guide. We need it because we are imperfect.

Twenty times in the course of my late reading, I have been upon the point of breaking out: This would be the best of all possible worlds, if there were no religion in it!

A. George H. W. Bush and James Madison
B. Herbert Hoover and Thomas Jefferson
C. Ronald Reagan and John Adams
D. Lyndon B. Johnson and Abraham Lincoln

13. Which little-known president is responsible for the following amazing quote?

The United States has adventured upon a great and noble experiment, which is believed to have been hazarded in the absence of all previous precedent — that of total separation of Church and State. No religious establishment by law exists among us. The conscience is left free from all restraint and each is permitted to worship his Maker after his own judgment. The offices of the Government are open alike to all. No tithes are levied to support an established Hierarchy, nor is the fallible judgment of man set up as the sure and infallible creed of faith. The Mohammedan, if he will to come among us would have the privilege guaranteed to him by the Constitution to worship according to the Koran; and the East Indian might erect a shrine to Brahma if it so pleased him. Such is the spirit of toleration inculcated by our political institutions… The Hebrew persecuted and down trodden in other regions takes up his abode among us with none to make him afraid… and the Aegis of the government is over him to defend and protect him. Such is the great experiment which we have tried, and such are the happy fruits which have resulted from it; our system of free government would be imperfect without it.

A. John Tyler
B. Chester Alan Arthur
C. James K. Polk
D. Benjamin Harrison

14. Which two presidents of two different parties could have agreed on these ideas?

No matter what other personal desires or crises we have faced, I’ve never forgotten that this is the time to celebrate the birth of the Baby Jesus, and the impact of this event on the history of the world.

It is only when men begin to worship that they begin to grow.

A. George W. Bush and Bill Clinton
B. Warren G. Harding and Woodrow Wilson
C. Franklin D. Roosevelt and Herbert Hoover
D. Jimmy Carter and Calvin Coolidge

15. Who said:

Next in importance to freedom and justice is popular education, without which neither justice nor freedom can be permanently maintained. Its interests are intrusted to the States and the voluntary action of the people. Whatever help the nation can justly afford should be generously given to aid the States in supporting common schools; but it would be unjust to our people and dangerous to our institutions to apply any portion of the revenues of the nation or of the States to the support of sectarian schools. The separation of Church and State in everything relating to taxation should be absolute.

A. Andrew Johnson
B. Rutherford B. Hayes
C. William McKinley
D. James A. Garfield

16. Which two presidents could have had this discussion about education?

I believe God did create the world. And I think we’re finding out more and more and more as to how it actually happened.

There is no need to teach that stars can fall out of the sky and land on a flat Earth in order to defend our religious faith.

A. Richard Nixon and Lyndon B. Johnson
B. John F. Kennedy and Harry Truman
C. George W. Bush and Jimmy Carter
D. Gerald Ford and Ronald Reagan

17. Which two presidents had the following different ideas about religious sensitivity?

The Jews, I find are very, very selfish. They care not how many Estonians, Latvians, Finns, Poles, Yugoslavs or Greeks get murdered or mistreated as D[isplaced] P[ersons] as long as the Jews get special treatment. Yet when they have power, physical, financial, or political, neither Hitler nor Stalin has anything on them for cruelty or mistreatment to the underdog.

If they are good workmen, they may be of Asia, Africa, or Europe. They may be Mohometans, Jews or Christians of any Sect, or they may be Atheists.

A. Harry Truman and George Washington
B. Franklin D. Roosevelt and James Monroe
C. Dwight D. Eisenhower and Grover Cleveland
D. Richard M. Nixon and Theodore Roosevelt

18. These two presidents would be horrified at all the faith talk in the present-day political arena. Who are they?

Voters … make up their minds for many diverse reasons, good and bad. To submit the candidates to a religious test is unfair enough — to apply it to the voters is divisive, degrading and wholly unwarranted.

If there is one thing for which we stand in this country, it is for complete religious freedom, and it is an emphatic negation of this right to cross-examine a man on his religion before being willing to support him for office.

A. William Howard Taft and William McKinley
B. John F. Kennedy and Theodore Roosevelt
C. Herbert Hoover and Harry Truman
D. Ulysses S. Grant and Abraham Lincoln

19. The country lucked out when neither of these two religious nuts were elected. What two losing candidates said:

If we have to give up either religion or education, we should give up education.

I believe that the purpose of life is to glorify God.

A. Charles Evans Hughes and Alfred E. Smith
B. Alf Landon and Barry Goldwater
C. William Jennings Bryan and Al Gore
D. Bob Dole and George McGovern

20. Who said:

We have the most religious freedom of any country in the world, including the freedom not to believe.

A. Richard M. Nixon
B. Lyndon B. Johnson
C. Barack Obama
D. Bill Clinton

[For these and many other great quotes, I highly recommend that you read 2000 Years of Disbelief by James A. Haught and The Quotable Atheist by Jack Huberman — or simply visit Positive Atheism.]

Posted in Freedom from Faith, Holidays, It's History, Playing Politics, Puzzles and Games | 16 Comments »

A Petition I Won’t Sign — and Why

Posted by Larry Wallberg on 02/08/2010

Sometimes, even alleged freethinkers can be sooooo dense.

I received an email from the American Humanist Association asking me to sign a petition addressed to President Obama. What the petitition requests is that he proclaim February 12, 2010 as Darwin Day. The desired proclamation would contain the following words:

I call on all Americans to recognize the importance of Charles Darwin and his theory of evolution by natural selection, to endeavor to preserve scientific discovery and human curiosity as bedrocks of American society, and to commemorate this day with appropriate events and activities.

That’s a great sentiment, and it would be excellent for an American president to express it. Not on February 12, however.

February 12, 1809 was noteworthy not only for the birth of Charles Darwin, but for the birth of Abraham Lincoln, as well. Lincoln, as even the most militant of atheists would acknowledge, may well have been the most important president in American history.

When I was growing up, we in the North celebrated Lincoln’s birthday in a pretty big way. Americans in the South? Not so much.

The battle between the Northern and Southern worldviews is still reflected in our politics today. The ignorance of religionists is a major factor in the ballot boxes of the “red” states, among which are most of those in the South.

Because of Lincoln’s pre-eminence in American history, quotes both pro- and anti-Christian have been attributed to him. It’s difficult to know which are authentic, and which the work of writers with a specific philosophical axe to grind.  But although it’s debatable whether or not Lincoln was an atheist – I’d say: most probably not – he seems to have had little use for oh-so-pious Christian zealotry:

My earlier views of the unsoundness of the Christian scheme of salvation and the human origin of the scriptures have become clearer and stronger with advancing years, and I see no reason for thinking I shall ever change them.

I am approached … by religious men who are certain they represent the Divine Will. … If God would reveal his will to others, on a point so connected to my duty, it might be supposed he would reveal it directly to me.”

Both [North and South] read the same Bible, and pray to the same God; and each invokes his aid. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God’s assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men’s faces, but let us judge not that we be not judged. The prayers of both could not be answered; that of neither has been answered fully.

It is an established maxim and moral that he who makes an assertion without knowing whether it is true or false is guilty of falsehood, and the accidental truth of the assertion does not justify or excuse him.

Darwin was a brilliant thinker and, as such, is revered by many of us in the skeptical community. We should definitely mount a campaign that President Obama proclaim the importance of his life and work. But perhaps we should urge the White House to designate November 24, 2010 as Darwin Day. That would correspond with the traditional anniversary of the publication of On the Origin of Species. (“Traditional” because the book actually may have been published about three weeks earlier.) November 24th would be a very nice juxtaposition to the next day, the pseudo-religious feast of Thanksgiving.

(And, yes, paradoxically enough for the argument I’m making here, Thanksgiving was proclaimed as a one-time national holiday in 1863 by … President Lincoln. Before he  announced that specific day as a time of prayer throughout the entire Union, various yearly Thanksgivings had been celebrated — primarily in the Northern states — on different dates.  The unifying war measure was urged upon Lincoln by, along with many others, the elderly editor Sarah Josepha Hale, writer of such major works as “Mary Had a Little Lamb.”)

Whether or not Lincoln believed in a supernatural entity, and, if so, what kind of deity he recognized, is unknown. He certainly was able to use the simplistic American version of “God” to achieve his own political ends. As I’ve said, I suspect that Lincoln was not an atheist. But our friend Darwin never claimed to be an atheist, either. If we want an honest-to-no-god Atheist Day of Joy, we should look to other persons or events for commemoration.

However, what should be significant to American freethinkers about Lincoln is his symbolic position as a leader in the fight to civilize our country, a fight which we’re still waging in 2010. Those atheists who focus their battle against ignorance only in the arena of science vs. superstition sometimes give short shrift to the value of literature, of history, of political philosophy, of culture in general. In those areas, Lincoln should be held up as an exemplar, a champion of reason.

We faithfreeists have few enough heroes to celebrate. Why lump two of our greatest into the same 24-hour period, merely because of a coincidence of birthdate? Since when have we become astrologers? Let’s not be so overeager that we turn stupid.

February 12th should continue to be, as it has been for many years, reserved for Lincoln.

Posted in Freedom from Faith, Holidays, Random Rants | 21 Comments »

Nite b4 Xmas

Posted by Larry Wallberg on 12/24/2009

There’s some controversy over who wrote “The Night Before Christmas.” Most people have learned that it was Clement Clarke Moore, a wealthy but dour bible scholar.  However, he didn’t claim authorship until more than two decades after the verse first made an anapest of itself in the Troy Sentinel on Dec. 23, 1823. The other contender for poet, according to various literary experts, is fun-loving Henry Livingston, a veteran of the Revolutionary War, and a jolly, happy soul. Unfortunately for holiday historians, Livingston never disputed Moore’s claim.

In any case, whoever wrote it, I’m glad that it was penned before the days of texting. If it were composed today – by my college-age son, for instance – it might look something like this. (A translation dictionary might be necessary for old farts like me.)

twas the nite b4 xmas
& all thru the hous
not a crEtur was strrng
IMHO

the stkngs were hung
@ the chimnE with care
in hopes that SC
wud soon b ther

the kids were zzzz
dreamng of sugR plums
ma & me wore
geezer pjs

out on the lawn
there arose such a clatR
i sprang out of bed
to see WTF!

Away to the window
i flew like a flash
tore open the shutters 2C
OMG!

the moon on the breast
of the new-fallen snow
made Ething look
gr8

when what to my wondering
i’s should appear
but a minislay
& 8 raindear

with a lil ol driver
so lively & quik
I nu it woz
SC

more rapid then Egls
his coursers they came
& he :-”d &  :-O
& called them by name

Now DashR DancR
PrancR VixN
On Comet Qpid
DonR BlitzN

OTT @ the porch
OTT @ the wall
now – away – away
– away all

reminded me of
dry leaves b4
some storm like
H Katrina

so ^ 2 the house top
EVRE1 flu
with a slayful of toys
&SC2

& then in a twnkling
i herd @ the roof
the prncng & pwng
of each lil hoof

as i dru in my hed
& woz turning ATW
SC FDGB

his clothes? FGDAI!
a bundle of toys
he’d flung on his bak
& he looked like some1
with a USP

his i’s twinkled
his dmpls merry
his cheeks roses
his noz cherry

his lil mouth bow
beard wite
pipe in teeth
smoke @ hed = wreath

broad face
rnd belly
shook when LOL
like PBJ

chubby plump jolly elf
I wuz LMAO!
his ‘-) sed
DWBH

He STFU
& GBTW
& filled all the stkngs
then turned w/ a jerk

finger @ noz
nod
^ chimnE

he sprang to his slay
gave a :-”
& away they flu
like the down of a thisL

but i herd him Xclaim
b4 he roz out of site
merry xmas 2 all
& 2 all CUL8R

Posted in Christmas | 6 Comments »

O Come, All Ye Faith-free-ful

Posted by Larry Wallberg on 12/19/2009

So yesterday afternoon I was sitting at the ol’ piano, playing tunes from a collection called “The Every Christmas Song You Can Think Of and Then Some Fake Book.” For me, as a faith-free person, the melodies – not the lyrics – rule. Lots of those songs are really catchy, and I don’t see any reason why I shouldn’t sing or play them just because they have words about imaginary entities and events. “God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen” is a much better tune than “Puff, the Magic Dragon,” and no more offensive. To tell the truth, I never believed that the itsy-bitsy spider went up the water spout, either.

I was practicing my own ragtime version of “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring” and trying to work out how to swing “The Little Drummer Boy” in 5/4, when the mail arrived. Nestled snugly among three or four scroogy bills was a greeting card with an illustration of the manger scene and the caption “Jesus is the reason for the season.” Now, that’s of course nonsense, despite how many underlines it has. The winter solstice was the inspiration for cold-weather celebrations and gift-giving long before Christianity was even a gleam in its father’s eye. Not only that, but there’s absolutely no gospel evidence for the time of year in which the protagonist was born. None. The early church fathers piggy-backed their big guy’s birthday onto various other seasonal festivities and called the day “Christmas.” Later, they adopted the yule log, the decorated tree, the holly, the mistletoe, the stockings, the overeating, the giant inflated snowman, and the chipmunks. Even the sending of cards has no biblical authority. So Jesus certainly isn’t the reason for the season; rather, the pre-existing holidays are the reason for the church’s usurpation of the season.

But I wasn’t annoyed merely because our senders had not gotten their facts straight. What irked me was their audacity. It’s harassment to mail a highly religious card, particularly one with a not-so-covert agenda, to people who may not agree with its message. The card was a solicitation, a political advertisement, not a sincere greeting. It irked me that some people would want to ram down my throat their own narrow interpretation of a universally enjoyable holiday.

For about fifteen minutes, I took my anger out on my own taste. I closed the songbook that was so entertaining to me, and I went into my office and put Dickens’s A Christmas Carol, one of my most beloved books, back on its shelf. I refused to take part in the same holiday that our sender was celebrating. Maybe I’d pull out my songs and my story again sometime in February, when Washington and Lincoln and Cupid, not Jesus, were the combined reason for the season.

But then I thought: the hell with that. I’m not going to let Christians ruin Christmas for me. So, glorying in the snow falling outside my window, I re-bookmarked Stave 2 in Dickens, bit the head off a chocolate reindeer, and returned to the piano to see if I could turn “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town” into a scary Schubert lied: “Der Weinachtsmann kommt in die Stadt.” Eventually, I also managed to feel pity for the people who so strictly limit their seasonal cheer – and, out of a veiled malice, would like to force me to likewise limit mine.

Posted in Christmas, Freedom from Faith, Music | 6 Comments »

Please Ask Someone Else, Virginia

Posted by Larry Wallberg on 12/15/2009

DEAR LARRY WALLBERG—
I am 8 years old.
Some of my little friends say there is no Santa Claus.
Papa says, ‘If you see it in MY OLD KENTUCKY HOMESITE it’s so.’
Please tell me the truth; is there a Santa Claus?
VIRGINIA O’HANLON

Virginia, your little friends are right.

MR. WALLBERG,
What’s the big idea, moron? I fully expected, when I asked my kid to write to you, that you’d gladly play along. What are you, some kind of jerk? She’s 8 years old, f’Chrissake! What’s the point of telling her that there’s no Santa Claus? Now I can’t get her to stop crying, you unbelievable a-hole.
PAPA O’HANLON.

Mr. O’Hanlon:
Please reread your daughter’s letter. I wasn’t the one who told her there’s no Santa Claus; her “little friends” did. Please don’t hold me responsible for playground chatter. You do know, don’t you, that those other kids were right? Actually, I’m wondering if the girl’s mother didn’t put the neighborhood children up to it; perhaps Mom understands that Virginia’s getting a little too old to believe in such nonsense. So why do you, her father,  insist on continuing to fool the child? If her peers know there’s no Santa Claus, they’ll certainly make fun of her when she insists there is. Think of your daughter’s self-esteem, why don’t you? Remember: Children can be extremely cruel when they make fun of each other. I’m sorry she’s crying now, but imagine how much worse it would be if all her little friends started calling her “Ginny the Ninny.” Anyway, a decent computer gaming system ought to dry her tears.

DEAR LARRY WALLBERG—
WTF!  I’ve known there’s no Santa Claus since I’ve been five.
Papa wants me to believe because he’d like to infantilize me forever.
Normally, I don’t go for all that goo-goo crap, but at Christmas I don’t mind batting my cute eyelashes and pretending I’m clueless.
Can’t you read between the lines, genius? Jesus, what kind of half-assed writer are you?  I thought if you said there IS a Santa Claus, Papa would feel obliged to buy me all the stuff I put on my list, including a new iPhone with about thirty expensive apps and tickets to see Lady Gaga in Miami on New Year’s Eve.
We wouldn’t want Santa to disappoint a good little girl, would we?
Papa would even have to spring for that pony I want. Good luck making believe it came down our chimney, Dad!
For your information, I have absolutely no need of a computer gaming system because I already own three different kinds.
And I’ve got to tell you something. Nobody under 100 uses the word “ninny” anymore. So why don’t you mind your own friggin’ business, you old fart?
By the way, my mother didn’t put anybody “up” to anything. She’s dead!
VIRGINIA O’HANLON

Virginia, your little friends are wrong. Make sure your papa sees what I wrote. Is that better? Can you live with yourself now that you’ve made me fib to your father? Sorry about your mother.

MR. WALLBERG,
Why would you lie to me, idiot? I, know very well that there’s no Santa Claus. It’s Virginia who asked you the question. I think she has grave doubts about his existence, but I’d like her to stay sweet and innocent for just a few years longer, at least until she’s 21. If you had any kind of a brain – which you clearly don’t – you would have sensed why I suggested she ask you. Until you wrote your unfeeling and incredibly stupid answer, she seemed to be under the impression that you were some kind of soulmate. Virginia talked about you almost as much as she babbled on about the Jonas Brothers or this Lady Gaga person, whoever the hell she is. (I hope she puts on a  better show than Barney did a few years ago, because we’re flying all the way to Florida  just to see her.) Every night at dinner, Virginia would go on and on: “My Old Kentucky Homesite” this, “My Old Kentucky Homesite” that. But did you care? No! God forbid you should bring joy to a child’s heart, you and your Scroogy journalistic ethics. Frankly, I think your blog sucks, and I think Kentucky sucks, too. So thanks a lot, moron! I hope you’re proud of yourself, because you’ve stolen my child’s youthful sense of wonder. Oh, and in case you’re curious: The kid has a perfectly beautiful stepmother, who caters to her every whim, so there’s nothing for you to be “sorry” about. Virginia and my wife, Mona, are very close. More than once, my daughter has even said to me, “I bet Mona is  a herm-afro… something or other … just like Lady Gaga.” Of course, Mona is not black at all, but why burst Virginia’s bubble? In future, please leave our family out of your ridiculous blog! Stick to writing about cereal and Jews.
PAPA O’HANLON.

Mr. O’Hanlon:
Next time, why don’t you have Virginia write to The Huffington Post? Maybe Arianna will go along with your dumb charade.

Posted in Christmas | 12 Comments »

Happy Chanukah, Orrin

Posted by Larry Wallberg on 12/09/2009

Most of my readers will already know that many of our most popular secular Christmas songs were written by Jews. (See the link on my sidebar.)  But this year, the big news is that Senator Mormon Hatch (R-Deseret), as you’ve probably heard ad nauseam by now, has written a Chanukah song, which was recorded in Indiana by a woman of Syrian extraction who doesn’t know how to pronounce the name of the holiday. (You can listen to the performance, if you must, by clicking here.) How ecumenical, eh?

Still, as someone with an ethnically Jewish background, I can tell you: All the songs in the world, even if they’re written by duly elected representatives from heavy-duty goyish states, are not going to make Chanukah into anything but a third-rate Yuletide. The Jews’ seasonal holiday just can’t hold a candle to Christmas.

As far as I know, no one has ever written a song specifically about that fact. Until now.

[A pretentious note on the metrics: Although I have composed a tune for this song, you don’t know what it is. I assure you, however: trying to make the words fit “Frosty the Snowman” or “Adeste Fideles” or even “Yankee Doodle” will not work. So just read the following as if it’s a really bad poem. However, if you’d like to recite the thing with any kind of musicality, you must keep in mind that the lyric is written basically in secundus paeon tetrasyllables: short LONG short short. (All right, I wasn’t aware of that when I wrote it; I looked it up and include the information here to make you think I knew what I was doing.) But to complicate things even further, some lines end in a trimeter with only one short syllable at the end; usually, but not always, the “fourth” short syllable is carried over to begin the next line. The last couplet of each verse,  … ah, screw it. I’m just gonna put all the accented syllables in boldface, OK? If that drives you nuts, just think of what a pain in the ass it was to type. Then ask yourself: Would Orrin Hatch go to this kind of trouble for his readers? I doubt it; he won’t even vote to give them health care, f’Chrissake.]

I love to light the candles on the Chanukah menorah,
And to spin the little dreidl hardly ever is a bore. A
Bit of gelt is always welcome to a kid; it’s just sensational!
“Buy anything you want (athough it should be educational).”
But here’s a question, Mom, for you, since Christmas season’s here:
Will Santa Claus be visiting the Jewish kids this year?

It’s fun to be a Hebrew ‘cause you get a big bar mitzvah,
Even if you scorn religion, can’t see what the devil it’s f’.
But you have to wait till you’re thirteen until you get your kicks,
And that’s very little comfort to a kid like me, who’s six.
So I must admit I’m worried and I ask you, Mommy dear,
“Will Santa Claus be visiting the Jewish kids this year?”

I’m proud that we are Jewish. Please believe me; I’m not fakin’.
I can live without their crosses. I can live without their bacon.
I love Purim with its groggers and delicious hamantashen.
Yom Kippur would be fine, too, if they would let you do some noshin.’
And at Pesach, if you’re smart, you find the matzah and get money
(While the Christian kid at Easter gets a lousy choc’late bunny).
So I’m not condemning Chanukah; I think it’s really great!
But, Mommy, can’t we have a little Christmas till I’m eight?

For when the other kids sing “Deck the halls with boughs of holly,”
Please excuse me if I can’t help wishing I could be as jolly.
I would love to watch for Rudolph; it would thrill my heart to pieces,
Even though I couldn’t care less about that other fellow, Jesus.
So I’m asking you again (please try to hear me loud and clear):
“Will Santa Claus be visiting the Jewish kids this year?

Next, maybe I’ll run for the U.S. Senate.

Posted in Christmas, Holidays, Music | 4 Comments »

My Stocking Had Better Have a Great Nose

Posted by Larry Wallberg on 12/08/2009

With Christmas only a few weeks away, I thought I’d better give some of my readers a hint about what to get me. So I’ll just simply say: I’m an oenophile. This confession may look more exotic to you than it really is. An oenophile (pronounced “een-o-file,” although sometimes you’ll hear “ween-o-file” or  “weenie for short) is merely a fancy term for a person who loves wine and considers himself to be something of a connoisseur. A good synonym, if you’d like to avoid Latinisms and/or tripping over your own tongue, is “wine snob.”

It’s tough to be an oenophile in a city where the best selection of bottles comes from a place called “The Liquor Barn.” If that conjures up pictures in your mind of people in overalls shopping for a bubbly pinkish beverage, you’re dead wrong. The Liquor Barn, believe it or not, has a pretty decent stock, although I wish it were called “La Grange du Vin.”

Kentucky’s claim to fame is, of course,  bourbon, not wine. There are a few wines made in Kentucky, but the ones I’ve sampled are pretty much indistinguishable from Kool-Aid – except that Kool-Aid isn’t as sweet. However, judging from La Grange du Vin’s shelves, there are plenty of oenophiles here, some even willing to spend more than four bucks on a bottle.

The news that I’m an oenophile may come as something of a surprise to old friends who remember me from my early –‘70s dandelion cider days, when I would drink anything as long as it as served by someone wearing a ponytail. But after sampling a homemade concoction known in my social circle as “Gino’s tomato brandy,” I decided that my days of indiscriminate beverage consumption were over. The stuff was a cross between fermented ketchup and lighter fluid. You could get a pretty good buzz if you were able to get enough down, but that was impossible to do if you ever wanted to use your stomach again.

It was around that time that I learned how appealing wine can be for a person who likes to read a lot. There’s so much to study before you can actually feel comfortable sitting back, taking a sip of a Grand Cru Chablis, and saying, “Hey, that’s not Coke, is it?” For one thing, you have to learn how to correctly pronounce the offerings on a restaurant wine list. When faced with the words “Chateauneuf de Pape,” for instance, you should not say, “chat enough duh payp.” Instead, you should carefully mouth the words, “Do you have something less expensive.” If you’re willing to be cute, feel free to add, “S’il vous plait.”

Only a true oenophile can stand beside an exquisitely beautiful woman, exclaim “Oh, my goodness, what gorgeous legs!” and be talking about the dribbles from a 2006 Gewurztraminer. Legs, in wine talk, are those little streamlike trickles on the sides of your glass after you swirl the liquid around. If that’s the kind of thing that turns you on in the presence of a sex kitten, you are a weenie.

Another part of the body that oenophiles like to talk about is the “nose.” This is wine-snob lingo for how the beverage smells. At a fancy tasting, you might well hear a connoisseur intone, “Ah, the nose on this Chateau Parvenu is redolent of leather.” Nobody ever says, “This stuff smells like old shoes.”

If you’ve never been to a wine-tasting, you’ve missed one of the universe’s great silly experiences. A wine-tasting is the only place in the world besides a dentist’s office where it isn’t gauche for an adult to expectorate. After taking a mouthful of wine and slurping it around against your teeth and tongue in a long sensual tease, you’re supposed to hawk it out into a spittoon. At the classiest wine-tastings, you might find yourself spewing out liquid that sells for hundreds of dollars a bottle, which, in my book, is nothing to spit at. But if you happen to sneak a swallow, the other attendees will stare at you as if you’re a Martian. Which you’re clearly not, because Martians don’t go for wine; they prefer tomato brandy or bourbon.

It’s easy to get intimidated at a wine-tasting, but I’m here to help you. There are only six steps you need to know before arriving at that glorious moment when you get to eject the very thing that you came to get sloshed on.

First, watch carefully as the cork is removed from the bottle. This is very important, since an unopened bottle will not pour well. When the cork is passed around, you take a slight whiff of it. Remember, though, that no one will find it funny if you shove it into one of your nostrils. Oenophiles have no sense of humor.

Second, read the label carefully. Avoid tasting the wine if you see the word “anchovy” used as a descriptor.

Third, after the wine is poured, swirl it in your glass. This is a difficult process to master, but it’s not considered good form to use your thumb. Try not to spill anything on yourself, but if you do so, don’t even think about wringing your shirt into a glass.

Fourth, examine the wine with your eyes. What color is it? If it’s grey, don’t drink it. Is it clear or cloudy? Or is it already raining? Does it have a luminosity? Does it glow in the dark? Are there little particles floating in it? Are they alphabet noodles?

Fifth, sniff the wine. Get your beak right down there and take a really noisy breath. However, try to keep the tip of your nose dry. What you’re trying to discern is the subtle combination of aromas contained in the sample. You’ll hear your colleagues come up with some howlers, like: peaches, truffles, cigars. Don’t hesitate to shout anything that comes to mind, although it’s probably best to keep it to yourself if the only thing you can think of is Vicks.

Sixth, while nobody’s looking, chug. If someone notices that you have an empty glass, smile and say smugly, “Oh, I’m interested only in the Chassagne-Montrachet.” If the person then replies, “Well, we just tried the Chassagne-Montrachet,” don’t get thrown. Respond, “No, I meant the 1949 Chassagne-Montrachet.” If the conversation continues with, “Ummm, that was the 1949 Chassagne-Montrachet,” shrug and ask, “Are you sure? Don’t you think we’d better try it again?”

Posted in Christmas, Wine | 4 Comments »