Monthly Archives: February 2012

February 29, 2012 – 295 days Until Baktun 12

Survivalist Tip:  Since this is “Leap Year,” it’s appropriate to remember the old English proverb, “Look before you leap.”  It’s likely that some Englishman came up with that after a few pints of ale.  The English – like Germans and Mexicans – could quaff down some brew and end up one shot away from being a frat boy.  But, of course, when you want to gain a good look at something, a pair of binoculars is perfect.  A telescope is even better, but that won’t fit in your backpack.  A good set of binoculars is perfect for surveying areas ahead of you, if you have to flee your home.  But, they also can come in handy even if you’re able to remain at home.  Either way, with binoculars you can see approaching and potential enemies like zombies, vultures and Catholic priests.  If you’re out in the wild, you can spot possible food sources like deer, buffalo and Twinkies.  (Remember, deer and buffalo are great sources of protein, and Twinkies have a shelf life of 5,000 years.)  So, stop into a sporting goods store soon and grab some binoculars.  They’re not just for peeping toms anymore!

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Why We Have the Need for February 29

As usual, you can blame the Romans for this mess, and since they were often aggravated with the Jews, you might as well blame them, too.  If Julius Caesar hadn’t decided to reform the old Roman calendar, we might still be adding a month to it every two or three years.  Like most ancient societies, the Romans used the sun and moon to guide their daily lives; when to plant crops, get married, make human sacrifices, etc.  Thus, the Roman calendar was based on a lunar month, which averages 29.5 days.  Around 46 B.C., Caesar – like most politicians – interfered with something that had functioned perfectly for years and declared, “Ist es ridiculum!” – whereupon he relegated the calendar to a solar-based system.

But, as you might expect, Caesar didn’t get it right.  The Julian calendar is based on a year that is 365 days and 6 hours.  Therefore, Caesar added a day to the month of February every 4 years to try to even out matters.  But, the equinoxes, as marked on that calendar, arrived earlier every year; which, in turn, messed up spring planting and spring weddings.  In the Northern Hemisphere, the spring equinox would arrive around March 25.  But, by the 16th century, it was arriving around March 10.  If this had continued, Easter eventually would have occurred in the dead of winter.  And, that of course, would have disrupted Easter egg hunts and lowered church attendance.  Again, political leaders just can’t seem to leave things alone.

Enter Pope Gregory XIII (1502 – 1585) who stemmed the growing tide of Protestantism in Europe and established a number of colleges and seminaries, including one in Germany called simply the “German College.”  But, Gregory is best known for redesigning the Julian calendar around 1578.  He lopped off 10 days from the month of October, but kept the “Leap Year” anomaly with some strict stipulations:

  1. A Leap Year has to be divisible by 4;
  2. If a year is not evenly divisible by 100, isn’t a Leap Year – unless;
  3. The year is also divisible by 400.

This latter factor explains why the year 2000 was a Leap Year, but the years 1700, 1800 and 1900 weren’t.

Italy, Poland, Portugal and Spain were the first countries to adopt the Gregorian calendar in 1582.  Sweden and Finland didn’t adopt it until 1712.  But, because they were so far behind in doing so, they had a “Double Leap Year” in 1712; meaning they actually had a February 30.  Great Britain and the United States didn’t embrace the Gregorian calendar until 1752, when they dropped 11 days from the old calendar.  I don’t know which 11 days and from what month, or if it was just done at random, but it got them synchronized with Europe.

Japan replaced its lunar – solar calendar in January 1873, but decided to use the numbered months it had originally used instead of the European names.  China finally acquired the Gregorian calendar in January 1912.  But, different warlords had different calendars, so no one really abided by it.  The government finally ordered a mass conversion to the Gregorian system in January 1929.

Presently, international time is determined by the vibrations of atoms in atomic clocks, which have a reputation for accuracy.  This adds a new term to the confusion: the “leap second.”  I know.  Just when you thought you understood the entire mess, along comes something new!

Keepers of atomic clocks periodically add or subtract one or two seconds every year to keep the clocks in line with a 24-hour day as measured by the Earth’s rotation – which is gradually slowing.  Scientists added the first leap seconds in June and December 1972.  The next leap second is due this June.  In a meeting in Geneva last month, these timekeepers proposed abolishing the leap second altogether.  A final decision on that bright idea is due in 2015.

By then, however, the Mayan calendar will have replaced all that crap, and the sun and moon can revolve in peace.  Thus, we won’t have to worry about leaping anywhere, except into a swimming pool – with chocolate and tequila nearby!

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Today’s Birthdays

Yes, there are people who have the misfortune of being born on February 29th.  Regardless, let’s celebrate their births, while trying to figure out their real ages. 

Actor Joss Ackland (The Hunt for Red October, The Sicilian, A Woman Named Jackie) is 84.


Tempest Storm (Annie Blanche Banks) actress – stripper – burlesque star (Strip Strip Hooray, Striptease Girl, Teaserama) who retired from stripping at age 65 is 84.



Jack Lousma (Astronaut Hall of Famer, member of Skylab space station crew in 1973, commanded third orbital test flight of the Space Shuttle Columbia in 1982) is 76.


Actor Alex Rocco (The Godfather, The Friends of Eddie Coyle, The Blue Knight) is 76.


Singer Gretchen Christopher (The Fleetwoods) is 72.


Actor Dennis Farina (Law & Order, Get Shorty, Saving Private Ryan) is 68.


Former professional football player John Niland (Dallas Cowboys) is 68.


Science fiction writer Patricia McKillip (The Forgotten Beasts of Eld, Harpists in the Wind) is 64.


Former professional baseball pitcher Al Autry (Atlanta Braves) is 60.

Science fiction writer Tim Powers (The Anubis Gates, Epitaph in Rust) is 60.


Actor Antonio Sabato Jr. (Earth 2, Beyond the Law, War of the Robots) is 40.


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On February 29…

1704 – A force comprised of Native Americans and French Canadians attacked the town of Deerfield, MA to retrieve their church bell that had been shipped from France.  The town was burned to the ground and more than 100 people were massacred in what was part of the second of the “French and Indian Wars.”


1904 – President Theodore Roosevelt created a seven-man commission to hasten the construction of the Panama Canal.


1920 – Miklos Horthy de Nagybanya became the Regent of Hungary just six months after leading a counterrevolt.

1940 – Gone with the Wind swept the 12th annual Academy Awards presentation by winning 10 awards, including Best Supporting Actress for Hattie McDaniel.  McDaniel was the first African-American to be nominated for and to win an Oscar.


1944 – The invasion of the Admiralty Islands began as U.S. General Douglas MacArthur led his forces in Operation Brewer.  Troops surged onto Los Negros, following a month of Allied advances in the Pacific.

1944 – Dorothy McElroy Vredenburgh of Alabama became the first woman appointed secretary of a national political party, when she was named to the Democratic National Committee.

1960 – The first Playboy Club opened at 116 E. Walton, Chicago, IL.  The last U.S. club, located in Lansing, MI, closed in 1988.  The last international club, located in Manila, closed in 1991.


1964 – Australian swimmer Dawn Fraser earned her 36th world record, clocking in at 58.9 seconds in the 100-meter freestyle in Sydney, Australia.


1972 – Newspaper columnist Jack Anderson revealed a memo written by Dita Beard, a Washington lobbyist for the International Telephone and Telegraph Corporation, which connected ITT’s funding of part of the Republican National Convention with a lawsuit the company had settled recently with the U.S. Justice Department.    

1972 – Swimmer Mark Spitz was named the 1971 James E. Sullivan Memorial Trophy winner as the top amateur athlete in America.


1980 – Gordie Howe of the Detroit Red Wings became the first player in NHL history to score 800 career goals (in a 3-0 Wings’ win over the St. Louis Blues).  Howe finished his career with 801 regular-season goals.


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Cartoon of the Day


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Picture of the Day

Beauregard, a Chihuahua, waits with his owner, Pat Day, at the start of the Mardi Gras Dog Parade held Sunday, February 19, 2012 at Baytowne Village in Sandestin, FL.  Beauregard was dressed in surfer garb to reflect the theme of this year’s parade, “Fetch a Wave.”  Just for doing that to Beauregard, I think Pat should be skinned, quartered and hung out to dry butt naked in the town square!  And then, arrest her for indecent exposure.  God save the animals!  Photo courtesy Devon Ravine AP /Northwest Florida Daily.

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Quote of the Day

Yemeni women hold up posters of Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, the country's vice president and the only candidate in Tuesday's polls.

“Maybe you can call them elections, but for me, elections should have more than one candidate.” 

– Nadia Abdullah of Yemen, after casting a ballot that listed only acting President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi

Any American who feels like they have to choose between the lesser of 2 evils next time they head to the polls should consider this statement.  Either that, or they can just shut the hell up and stay home!  Either way thank goodness for a democratic society.

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February 28, 2012 – 296 days Until Baktun 12

Survivalist Tip:  If you’re a minimalist survival type, then you understand the need for traveling light.  For the uninitiated, minimalism doesn’t refer to the art movement of the same name that began in New York City in the 1960’s when artists ran out of supplies and design space in the already-crowded Soho district.  This refers to those who can survive with the least number of tools and supplies, like military and law enforcement personnel.  Others, like celebrities and professional athletes, can’t function without heavy baggage and a large entourage, so they’ll perish in the chaos.  Considering that the Mayans built one of the largest and most advanced civilizations in pre-Columbian America without the aid of draft animals, wheels and Super Glue, minimalism is an appropriate survival technique.  I discussed the value of burlap bags in a previous post, but a large backpack or rucksack is better for those who plan to move about on foot.  It should be big enough to store such essentials as flashlights, batteries, snack crackers, bandages and, of course, chocolate and Xanax, but flexible enough to strap onto your back.  Understandably, you’ll get tired after hours of hiking and climbing over rough terrain, abandoned vehicles and the bodies of people who died because they waited until the last minute to prepare for the apocalypse.  But then, that’s why you have the chocolate and Xanax on hand in the first place!

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Racing Oscar

Sunday night’s Oscar ceremonies provided the usual displays of celebrity fashion and idolatry.  When Angelina Jolie arrived to present the screenwriting awards and stood at the stage’s edge with her right leg prominently jutting through a severe slit in her designer gown, I realized no one in their right mind can take this stuff seriously.  Every year at this time, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences excretes these coveted statuettes amidst the tabloid revelry and calls it ceremonious.  But, like all other awards shows, the Oscars are nothing more than popularity contests; particularly in the acting and directing categories.  Henry Fonda once noted that it was ridiculous to nominate five actors for an award, but then select only one to receive it.  Katherine Hepburn, for example, is still considered one of America’s greatest actresses; the Academy bestowed four Best Actress Oscars upon her.  But, in my opinion, she has nothing on Meryl Streep who picked up her third Oscar Sunday night.  Hepburn never truly acted; she just sort of behaved.  She was too arrogant to let herself disappear into a character.  Streep, on the other hand, becomes almost indistinguishable whenever she takes on another persona.  Again, just my view.  If you want to see genuinely talented competition, watch a high school speech and debate contest.

This Wednesday, the 29th, will mark the 72nd anniversary of the 1940 Academy Awards where Hattie McDaniel won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her role as “Mammie” in Gone with the Wind.  McDaniel was the first African-American to be nominated for and to win an Oscar.  She was also the first African-American to attend an Oscar ceremony, although she had to sit at the back of the room in the Biltmore Hotel in Los Angeles.  Her win was bittersweet.  It marked a cinematic milestone for Black Americans.  But, Gone with the Wind arrived in theatres to face as many protests from the NAACP as it did accolades from fans of Margaret Mitchell’s book.  Civil rights activists denounced the film’s stereotypical portrayals of Blacks.  McDaniel even sat out the film’s premier in Atlanta, saying she had other obligations.  In reality, she wasn’t welcome.

It’s difficult to imagine such a scenario now, especially considering the leftist bent the American cinematic community seems to possess.  But, observing this year’s contenders, I noticed three new faces: Viola Davis, a Best Actress nominee for The Help; Octavia Spencer, a Best Supporting Actress nominee also for The Help; and Demián Bechir, a Best Actor nominee for A Better Life.  Spencer won in her field.  More importantly, though, I noticed the roles they played were as stereotypical as ‘Mammie,’ anomalies in 21st century American films.  Or maybe not.  The Help is a period piece about a young White woman who decides to write a controversial book from the point of view of Black maids amidst the civil rights struggles of early 1960’s Mississippi; instead of – say – one of the maids suddenly discovering her literary muse and writing her own story.  A Better Life is a contemporary tale about a Mexican immigrant father who chooses to stay in the United States to provide (as the title implies) a better life for his son, while working as a gardener in East L.A.  Regardless of their respective storylines and grandiose intentions, both films play into conventional roles often assigned to Blacks (housekeepers) and Hispanics (immigrant gardeners).  To be fair, I haven’t seen either film – and I don’t intend to see them.  I’ve watched plenty of formulaic characterizations of Blacks and Hispanics in films and on TV.

But, you’d think in the 72 years since Hattie McDaniel won her Oscar, things would have changed for both ethnic groups.  Obviously, Hollywood isn’t as liberal as the talking heads on FOX News claim it is.  Despite years of progress and social consciousness – with celebrities publicly calling for more AIDS research, support for animal rights, etc. – the American entertainment community often likes to stick with what’s popular, or at least with what it knows.  Much like corporate America, the biggest movie studios are run by old and middle-aged White men.  So, it’s easy to deduce that Hollywood’s country club elitists still can’t see Blacks and Hispanics occupying more mundane professions like accountants, doctors, architects and technical writers.  We’re still pushing mops and lawn mowers in their minds.

They may not be able to see beyond those typical characterizations, but I certainly can – because that’s pretty much all I’ve seen of Blacks and Hispanics.  We’re educated and hard-working just like…well, just like you’d expect the average American citizen to be.  One only has to watch an episode of The First 48 on A&E to see more Blacks and Hispanics wearing law enforcement uniforms than gang colors.  Blacks actually have fared pretty well in film and television in recent decades.  They’re no longer presented as the ‘happy Negro,’ content with merely singing delightful Walt Disney songs, or delivering coy punch lines.  Hispanics, it seems, have yet to arrive, despite some concerted efforts like Chico and the Man and, more recently, George Lopez.  And, Native Americans haven’t even made it to the gate.  Some years ago a friend of mine who was of Vietnamese extraction lamented the constant portrayals of Asians as “wacky scientists” or “goofy doctors.”

“At least you’re shown as doctors and scientists,” I told her.  My people are still shown as gang members and illegal aliens.”

Blacks certainly have come a long way since Hattie McDaniel floated across the silver screen in proper kerchief and apron.  Hispanics also have made considerable strides since Desi Arnaz became the first Hispanic on American television.  Native Americans haven’t migrated much from the Little Big Man days, although there was that blip called Dances with Wolves.  I guess Hollywood and Academy executives are still smarting from Marlon Brando’s stunt at the 1973 Oscars.  I don’t fault Viola Davis, Octavia Spencer and Demián Bechir for taking on their respective roles.  In a business where unemployment hovers around 100%, people have to grab what they can.  But for all the headway and enlightenment we’ve achieved, The Help and A Better Life insinuate that Blacks and Hispanics occasionally have to be reminded of our proverbial place in society and how we shouldn’t stray too far from that standard.  I sense “our people” have to placate the money-laden powers in Hollywood every once in a while, if they want to keep working.  For better or worse, though, here we are – and circumstances have improved.  Change is often slow, yet unstoppable.  As philosopher William James once said, “Human beings, by changing the inner attitude of their minds, can change the outer aspects of their lives.”


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Today’s Birthdays

Actor Charles Durning (Tootsie, The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, Sharky’s Machine) is 89.

Chris Kraft (NASA flight director for all Mercury and many Gemini space missions) is 88.

Author Svetlana Alliluyeva (The Faraway Music; daughter of Joseph Stalin; defected to the West in 1967) is 86.


Actor Gavin MacLeod (The Mary Tyler Moore Show, The Love Boat) is 81.


Dean Smith (Basketball Hall of Famer and coach of 1976 U.S. Olympic Basketball Team) is 81.

Tommy Tune (Tony Award-winning dancer and actor) is 73.


Auto racer Mario Andretti is 72.


Actor Frank Bonner (WKRP in Cincinnati, Sidekicks) is 70.


Guitarist – singer Joe South (Walk a Mile in My Shoes, Games People Play) is 70.

Actress Stephanie Beacham (The Colbys, Dynasty) is 65.


Actress Bernadette Peters (The Jerk, Annie) is 64.


Actress Mercedes Ruehl (Married to the Mob, Big) is 64.


Drummer Phil Gould (Level 42) is 55.

Actor John Turturro (The Sicilian, Hannah and Her Sisters, The Color of Money) is 55.


Singer Cindy Wilson (B-52s) is 55.


Actor Robert Sean Leonard (Dead Poets Society, Manhattan Project) is 43.


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