I confess: I am but one week away from commemorating my 40th year on this planet, and I have yet to ever play The Game of Life. This is not due to some ethical or existential objection to simulating the course of one’s existence upon a square slab of cardboard, but rather due to my friends and I having spent our youthful recreation time with Star Wars toys and kindly ol’ Super Mario. I never got around to playing Candyland either.
As beloved as this board game may be, with its plastic minivans, its cruel cash-drains and generous paydays, buried deep within its roots is a transformative story. The original version of the game, concocted by Mr. Milton Bradley himself, elevated the concept of gaming from prescriptive quests for moral elevation to a more practical and modernized measure of success. More importantly, it came packaged with choice.
The Game of Life as we know it (well, as you probably know it, since I’ve never played the thing) features one early decision: go to school or get a job. After that, each soul is subjected to the whim of the spiteful spinner, suggesting that life is but a cavalcade of random collisions, and that we are always at the mercy of the fickle flick of fate. Mr. Bradley’s outlook on destiny was far more empowering.
Tracing the Bradley lineage would suggest that a rather dreary definition of “life” could have taken center-stage in his outlook. The family tree was planted in America in 1635, and since then its bark shows the hatchet-marks of murder, Indian attack, kidnapping, and at one point hot embers being poured into an infant’s mouth. When Milton finally squeezed his way onto the planet in 1836, the Bradleys were a little less prone to being butchered, but far from being economic titans. Read more…
Every few years – or sometimes sooner than that – those of us in democratic countries who feel compelled to do so will cast our vote in hopes that it might help to steer our nation from the cesspool in which it is presently mired toward a newer, less feces-laden cesspool. Sometimes we succeed. Also, there are times when we watch the news and wonder how anyone with an IQ greater than a puddle of artificial creamer might have voted for the current putz.
A few months ago I compiled a list of what experts have deemed to be the most egregious smudges upon the office of the Presidency of the United States. I met with no dissent in the comments section, perhaps because everyone agreed with the options presented, or maybe because those crappy presidents have also often evolved to become the most obscure and forgotten presidents.
Despite the fact that much of my reading audience is in America, I’m nevertheless going to present a deeper exploration of the obscure today. There have been garbage leaders all over the western world. Just for fun, let’s see who splatters the bottom of the list in some of the Commonwealth nations.
Sir William “Squinty” McMahon took over the top seat in Australia in 1971, an ugly win which oozed from a period of party infighting and disgruntled squabbling. Right away, McMahon’s opponent on the Labor Side was a well-spoken war hero named Gough Whitlam. Every time the two of them traded barbs it was McMahon who skulked away, shamefully coming up short on wit and rhetoric. Read more…
The spyglass of history has not been kind to the Nixon administration. I was born exactly seven weeks after Richard Nixon handed in his resignation and took that long lonely walk into his murky legacy. My generation, who grew up in the Reagan/Bush era, found only one defender of the Nixon presidency in pop culture, and the passion written into Alex P. Keaton’s dialogue was clearly meant to be satirical.
Those of us who cared to look into it – and given that we were a generation late and a country north, there weren’t many of us – saw an unsympathetic troupe of tie-wearing bastards, farting in the face of the law and crapping all over the seat of absolute American power. It’s a tale of ancient American history to us, as intangible and ethereal as the Kennedy conspiracy, Dewey defeating Truman or the Hawley-Smoot Tariff.
But it makes for fascinating drama. Anyone who has avoided the Dustin Hoffman / Robert Redford movie All The Presidents’ Men because it looks like a laggy political drama and hey, there’s a new Transformers movie out and explosions are more fun – just stop already. Yes, explosions are fun but this shit actually happened. Scoundrel, Montgomery-Burns-type dickheads really held that much power and abused it to a pulp. Rather than re-tell the whole affair here (a thousand words would scarcely get us through the DNC headquarters’ flimsily-locked door), I’m going to spotlight one scoundrel in particular: John N. Mitchell. And his wife. I’ve got to talk about his wife.
Somehow the pipe makes him look more evil.
For thirty years John Mitchell was a municipal bond lawyer, and from what I’ve read he seems to have embraced every lawyer stereotype. He was shady and just enough on the smarmy side to gather some powerful friends. One of those friends was Dick Nixon, who tapped Mitchell to be his campaign manager in 1968. During the campaign, there arose allegations that the Nixon camp somehow sabotaged the Paris Peace Talks, which could have brought about an end to the Vietnam War. Read more…
This could be the most important article I will ever write. Far beyond the knuckle-clacking tensions of dog people vs. cat people, Shelly Long fans vs. Kirstie Alley fans, or bacon-eaters vs. people who don’t know better, there lies the conflict of toilet paper orientation. The solution offered by both camps (the ‘over the roll’ and ‘under the roll’ dichotomy) can divide an otherwise happy household.
Toilet paper orientation is more than a product of habit; my son spent the first 18 years of his life beneath a devout over-the-roll roof, yet he prefers to mount his TP so that he’s pulling from under it. This is a domestic deal-breaker, a precarious pendulum that could sever a marriage quicker than a differing of perspectives on child-rearing.
I would have thought this to be a matter of inexplicable preference, an open-and-shut debate. But digging through the matter uncovers a wealth of psychological, anthropological and socioeconomic dissection, as well as some math. This is a legitimate topic, worthy of at least a thousand words of analysis. As I have happily devoted many of the last 910 days to the careful nit-pickery of the utterly trivial, I’m happy to unfurl the secrets of this issue.
For those in the middle, just leave it on your bathroom counter.
Notre Dame University has what sounds like a brilliant sociology course on its calendar: The Social Construction of Reality. In that course they look at the basic application of sociological principles to things like personal space, urinal etiquette and of course, toilet paper orientation. Students explore, through their own research and through the weird research of others, gender, race, age and social class distinctions in these seemingly innocuous day-to-day affairs. There is a surprising amount of research on this divisive domestic issue. Read more…
If a politician’s legacy was determined solely by how many bad things are said about them in public, then all of history’s worst politicians are either presently in office or they have served their terms since the advent of the 24-hour news cycle. This isn’t true of course – to truly dig through history’s nuances and rank our politicians’ situational responses would be an impossible task, and a magnificently arbitrary effort in academic wankery.
So naturally it has been done, several times over in fact.
I can see ranking our leaders as an interesting exercise, if performed by historians and political experts who can employ their breadth of knowledge of tariffs and policies and the various global goings-on that were impacted by each one. But expecting the general public to provide any insight on whether James Polk or Martin Van Buren had a more positive impact on America is going to produce a somewhat questionable result.
Nevertheless, we’ll dig through the filthy, obfuscated muck of public opinion as well as the academically-approved muck from the professionals. It’ll be nice to take a break from picking on history’s worst movies, TV shows and music and having a dig at actual people who – for reasons either selfless, corrupt, or a sprinkling of both – decided they wanted the chance to be in charge.
Abe Lincoln, FDR and George Washington tend to top the U.S. Presidential rankings, with an honorable mention to Thomas Jefferson, Teddy Roosevelt and JFK. I’m looking at a collection of seventeen surveys conducted between 1948 and 2011, from sources like the Wall Street Journal and Sienna College. A few curious trends are immediately evident. First, in the half-century between James K. Polk’s term ended in 1849 and Teddy Roosevelt’s began in 1901, the only president considered to be even remotely above mediocre is Lincoln. In fact, three of the bottom four-ranked presidents served just before and just after Abe. Read more…
As much as I try to avoid writing about politics (mostly because I’m far more informed about other topics, like bacon and juggling), I am nevertheless somewhat boggled, baffled and befuddled at the fact that Rob Ford could very possibly win his bid for re-election this fall as Toronto’s mayor. Look, I can understand the appeal of a crack-smoking drunk – we all know the bad-boys got all the chicks in high school. I myself once wore a mullet and owned a ratty old jean jacket.
But I think there has to be a line of responsibility drawn here. Someone like Rob Ford should not be tasked with running Canada’s largest city. There needs to be a cap on how high a slovenly misogynist with a penchant for substance abuse can climb in society – I’m thinking an assistant manager at a Denny’s. Anything more important than that and we’re just asking for trouble.
Mayor Ford is hardly the world’s only example of a poorly-chosen leader, and I’m not even including the numerous corrupt dictators and store-bought US Congressmen. We North American types have been mostly oblivious to the antics of Godfrey Bloom, an independent Member of the European Parliament for the Yorkshire And The Humber section of England. This guy is classic Rob Ford material, minus the crack use.
Also, he sort of looks like the star of stage and screen, John Houseman.
Godfrey Bloom was elected to the European Parliament in 2004 as a member of the United Kingdom Independence Party, a right-wing libertarian group that supports the monarchy and frowns on same-sex marriage and climate change. Godfrey served as the party whip until September of last year when he (and the party) decided their fundamental differences in opinion were a little too wide for that relationship to continue. Read more…
Having spent all but three weird months of my life in Edmonton, a portion of my available fascination is perpetually woven into the snug threads of the city’s storied history. Admittedly, when the frigid fingernails of a late November cold spell are scraping bone through skin I will occasionally entertain a baffled speculation as to the reasoning behind Edmonton’s founders choosing this spot in which to settle. But they did, we’re here, and some magnificently cosmic clattering of fate’s dice landed me at birth within these city limits.
A tremendous Facebook page, operated by a former resident who finds the constant fluctuation of our city’s urban visage to be a matter of fascination and deeply in need of public documentation, is an inescapable vice for me. It was nothing short of a revelation to me that before our cold, brutalist courthouse we had a splenderiffic edifice, complete with Roman pillars and a classic aesthetic. I’m still amazed that we had an incline railway that once covered the same ground as the parkade where I occasionally stash my Toyota during the workday.
My workplace view overlooks our pointy, modernist City Hall and the Chicago-inspired McLeod Building, and I take a moment to soak in a fresh smidgen of our landscape every day. But beneath that landscape is a brief but hurried urban history, one which propelled us from a frontier trading post to a 21st century metropolis with astounding speed. I’d like to learn more, to dig my feet a little deeper into local lore. And where better to start than with the decadent facial hairstylings of our first mayors?
One hundred years before I was legally entitled to fling a ballot into the steampunk apparatus of civic democracy, Matthew McCauley was elected our town’s first mayor. I poked around his legacy for a smattering of dirt, but all I could uncover was an unending procession of awesomeness. Our school system, our first hospital, our Chamber of Commerce… they all are smeared with Mayor Matt’s fingerprints. He was the quintessential first mayor every town needs. Read more…
Looking for a way to feel old? With a few exceptions, the only people who vividly remember the events of 9/11 first-hand are now legally eligible to vote. Those of us who can recall it are easily able to summon that cool twitch of nerves below the surface of our skin, and the shadowy ash of paranoia that all but blocked out the sun in the days that followed.
When President George W. Bush took action in pursuit of Osama bin Laden, he was hailed a hero and basked in the fleeting warmth of a 90% approval rating. Partisan lines that had been carved in the sand by jagged, blood-flecked sticks were swept clean and presidentially raked like a long-jump pit. Everyone wanted to get the bad guys, and we didn’t care if it took John McClane, John Rambo or every US Marine and his/her pet gerbil to get it done.
But as 2001 faded into the dim indigo glow of 2002 and then 2003, enthusiasm began to wane. The bad guys clearly couldn’t be taken down within the confines of a two-hour blockbuster storyline. It wasn’t a matter of claiming their base with a steel-toed thud, or chasing bin Laden to the edge of a volcano for a Hans Zimmer-scored climactic duel with battle axes. Instead we had the Patriot Act, the TSA, and home-spun atrocities that scantly trickled through our newsfeed.
Like the story of Khalid El-Masri.
Khalid was born and raised in Lebanon, but when the local political climate blew in a nor’easter of a civil war during the 1980’s, he booked a one-way trip to Germany and applied for political asylum. Since then, Khalid got married twice, and had settled into a comfortable lifestyle. In late 2003, he decided to take a short vacation from his home in Ulm to the city of Skopje, Macedonia, home of over 600 newspapers (seriously). At the Macedonian border, things began to go wrong. Read more…
To be honest, the foundation upon which Rainey Bethea’s adult life was built was never particularly sturdy. Orphaned at 17 and sent off to live the life of an impoverished black man in Depression-era Kentucky is not a good start. Not that this excuses his extensive dalliances on the dark side of the law any more than it explains his obvious lack of skill in the criminal arts, at least judging by his arrest record. It simply makes for little shock value that Rainey would meet his destiny at the looped end of a hangman’s rope.
What makes Rainey Bethea’s case worthy of closer examination is the specific circumstance of that final curtain, and how those circumstances put the official seal of finality on public executions in the United States. At least for now; who knows what madness may unfold throughout future generations of justice and punishment?
But I’m jumping ahead. Let’s go back to 1935, to when things all started to go wrong for Rainey. The story begins with a $20 fine for breaching the peace.
Breach of the Peace is a fairly vague statute which covers everything from failing to disperse when a policeman instructs you to do so, to an egregiously cruel elevator fart. The record of what specifically Rainey Bethea did to warrant such a charge in early 1935 is lost in the back of some far-off filing cabinet. Then in April of that year, he was nabbed for stealing two purses from a store. The purses were valued above $25 so this meant a felony charge of grand larceny and a year in the can. Read more…