history

My Uncle Joe’s Garden – A Veterans Day Remembrance

Originally published November 11, 2011

Four Cut Sunflowers by Vincent Van GoghJoseph Papak was a carpenter, my great uncle, and the only natural-born gardener I ever met. A railroad track ran alongside the duplex he and my Aunt Sue shared with my dad’s family in Monongahela, Pa., and Uncle Joe claimed the strip of rocky soil across the track for his garden. Polio forced him to walk with a cane as long as I knew him, but he scaled the gravel rise along the tracks, “just threw seeds on the ground,” and raised everything without fail. Broccoli, strawberries, corn, massive sunflowers lighting the entrance to the driveway, all in the constant gray of southwestern Pennsylvania. He also took over every unused patch of ground around the house and yard, always growing something year round. Beautiful asparagus shot up randomly along the wooden fence, like they’d taken root in each of his footsteps. He was the first person I ever saw compost, when I was just a little kid. He’d dump table scraps into a perfectly dug hole in the garden, sides as smooth as a beer keg, and cover it with a garbage can lid.

Continue Reading →

Here is Orson Welles’s “The War of the Worlds” and the Reasons Why You Should Listen to It

Orson Welles on the air with the Mercury Theatre

Update, May 7, 2015: Yesterday would’ve been Orson Welles’s 100th birthday. I originally wrote the piece below in 2012 when raising money for the pilot episode of my radio comedy Special Relativity. That show came to fruition last month, starring Alex Borstein, and you can listen to the first episode at SpecialRelativityRadio.com or on iTunes.

As today’s incentive to get you to donate to Special Relativity’s sprint to raise $125 a day for the next 20 18 days, I’m giving you a gift of my favorite radio show ever, which also happens to be one of the most important works of art of the 20th century. (I know that the way these pledge drives usually work is that I give you the gift after you donate, but we’re all family here, and if I had any business acumen I wouldn’t have driven six miles yesterday to save $1 on a box of Fruity Pebbles.)

The show isn’t comedy, but it is science fiction. It’s the Mercury Theatre’s adaptation of H.G. Wells’s The War of the Worlds, first broadcast on CBS Radio October 30, 1938, produced/directed by and starring Orson Welles. You can stream or download the entire hour-long broadcast after the jump, though you’re obligated to read through my explanation of why you should think it’s great. 1I should mention that the reason I’ve decided that it’s okay for me to distribute this recording is that the question of who, if anyone, owns the copyright to old broadcasts like this one is very unsettled. That’s partly because at this point nobody really gives a shit. And while the estate of the show’s writer Howard Koch unquestionably holds the rights to the script, those don’t extend to the actual broadcast. Lots of folks with no claim to the material at all make money by selling CDs and MP3s of the broadcast, so I figure I can give it to the world for free.

Continue Reading →

   [ + ]

1. I should mention that the reason I’ve decided that it’s okay for me to distribute this recording is that the question of who, if anyone, owns the copyright to old broadcasts like this one is very unsettled. That’s partly because at this point nobody really gives a shit. And while the estate of the show’s writer Howard Koch unquestionably holds the rights to the script, those don’t extend to the actual broadcast. Lots of folks with no claim to the material at all make money by selling CDs and MP3s of the broadcast, so I figure I can give it to the world for free.

The Beautiful Eyes of the Jewish Dead are Watching Tila Tequila

A Jewish girl in the Kunto, Poland Ghetto, 1939I would love to continue ignoring Tila Tequila. It’s worked for the last 10 years, and certainly no one has proven herself more worthy of disregard than she has, a rock-brained former fourth-class tit model who parlayed an army of MySpace friends into a career as a professional fourth-class celebrity. But fourth-class as she may be, Tila Tequila, née Ngyuen, unfortunately still holds the attention of a non-zero number of people, including close to four million Facebook and MySpace friends. And those four million are now the audience for Tila’s new self-appointed role as chief apologizer and proselytizer for Hitler and purveyor of hatred, dread, and warnings toward Jews.

I feel silly spending any time at all rebutting this ridiculous semi-human, as if I’m determinedly trying to beat a six-year-old at Mario Kart. But her four million followers have proven themselves to be impressionably stupid simply by paying attention to Tila, and it’s worth the time to make sure that not a single one of them, especially not a single young person, believes a word of the vileness she’s spreading or uses it as fertilizer for tiny bulbs of hate they might have buried.

Continue Reading →

Sorry, But You Can’t Vote in Pennsylvania Because of the Tartar Hordes

The Springfield Town Charter1-up to my favorite blogger, Kara Vallow, for unearthing the text to the historical court ruling that Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court Judge Robert Simpson cited as grounds for his upholding the state’s unconstitutional and grandma-oppressing new voter ID law.

That precedent, the 143-year-old Patterson v. Barlow, is so hilariously and offensively anachronistic that it seems to have been lifted from the Springfield town charter. The 1869 judge found that election rules needed to be instituted in Philadelphia to protect the state from those who might do it harm if allowed to vote, i.e. the poor and immigrants (not to mention of course Jews, Papists, and dumpling eaters). As Kara notes, the ruling claims that letting those quote-unquote-people vote would “place the vicious vagrant, the wandering Arabs, the Tartar hordes of our large cities, on a level with the virtuous and good man.”

Apparently Judge Simpson feels that Patterson v. Barlow, having kept Pennsylvania safe from the Tartar hordes for nearly a century and a half, forms a fine foundation for 21st century election law in his state. What a dick.

Do yourself a favor and go read the rest of Kara’s post, but be warned that it uses cuss words including “Maltoolers” and “Newgate Knockers.”

Also, if you know any Pennsylvania voters who need help getting official identification for the upcoming election, the organization Election Protection will assist them. Visit their web site or call 1-866-OUR-VOTE.

I Decided Not to Call This Post “Neil Armstrong: He Went There”

Neil Armstrong preparing to board Apollo 11I hadn’t intended to write anything about Neil Armstrong, since the rest of the world have covered his life well enough, but I found myself unexpectedly saddened at his death. Armstrong was a true hero — as I said on Twitter, he deserves to be remembered as one of the most important humans in all history. But I learned he was gone in the hours before my birthday, a marker of change about which I was already pretty down. I spent a good part of the day realizing that his death is also marking change, signaling that an age of giants is ending, and that I let it pass me by.

Continue Reading →

The History of April Fool’s Day

Here, I dug up this a thing I wrote March 17, 2003 to explain the origin of April Fool’s Day to middle-school kids.

The Michaelmas GooseDid you ever wonder about the history of April Fool’s Day? Well, we’re going to tell you about it anyway! This is not a joke:

400 years ago in Europe, they used a different calendar than we use now. New Year’s Day fell on April 1, and people partied and got jiggy with things every April 1, much the same way we do now on New Year’s.

Then, in 1582, Pope Gregory XIII got an idea. For various Pope-related reasons, he designed a new calendar with New Year’s Day on January 1. He declared that everyone in the world must use his new calendar. (Back then the Pope could do stuff like that.)

When the Pope spoke, people listened. But the thing was, 400 years ago, news didn’t travel very fast. It took some people YEARS to find out about the new calendar. So the uninformed were still getting jiggy every April 1, while other people had previously jigged out back in January. Folks who knew about the new calendar looked at the April 1 jiggmeisters, pointed, laughed, and called them “fools.” They even played pranks on the fools. We imagine the pranks went something like this:

Continue Reading →

31 Years In

Reading the news that Magic Johnson is poised to become a part owner of the Dodgers, it occurred to me that, 21 years ago when Johnson announced that he is HIV+, the idea of someone living 21 years with HIV was almost unthinkable. The amazing success in the treatment of AIDS is one of the great triumphs of modern medicine. With that in mind, here’s a piece I wrote for the teen audience of The-N.com on June 5, 2006, the 25th anniversary of the first reported case of AIDS.

Cover of the 11/18/1991 issue of The Sporting News25 years ago today, the Center for Disease Control reported the first five cases of a disease that we now know of as AIDS. When I heard that fact this morning, it reminded me that, if you’re reading this (which you are) you’ve never known a world without AIDS.

I usually hate pointing out that I’m older than you, but today I’m remembering when I was in junior high and high school, which, though it was several years after those first cases were reported, was right at the time when AIDS took over the public consciousness and changed ideas of sex forever. When I first became a teenager, a high school student going into a drug store and asking for condoms would’ve been treated roughly equivalent to a high school student going into a drug store and asking for a bag of weed. By the time I graduated, high school students could pick up condoms from the school nurse.

Continue Reading →