Every Day Is Special
First appeared in print in The Rhinoceros Times
, Greensboro, NC.
Manatees, Hugs, Laugh-in, Dental Drills
Thursday, January 20th -- Hostage Day
Thirty years ago today, the 52 American hostages in Iran were released after 444 days of
Since the hostages were taken in a semi-official "riot" in reaction to President Carter's allowing
the ex-Shah of Iran to enter the U.S. for medical treatment, and because Carter had attempted
to rescue the hostages by military means, and because once the supposedly-religious Iranian
fascist leaders hate you, they hate you forever (and God therefore does too), the hostages could
not be released until Carter was no longer President of the United States.
Besides, while Reagan talked tough about never paying ransom, the ayatollahs in Iran
apparently had his measure -- once in office, Reagan, a complete pushover, repeatedly
negotiated and traded with the Iranians for hostages taken all over the Middle East.
It was Reagan, too, who authorized the U.S. Navy to shell terrorist-sheltering neighborhoods in
Beirut and then withdrew American Marines after the retaliatory suicide bombing of the Marine
People look back on Carter today as the weak-and-bad President, and Reagan as the tough-and-strong President, but in dealing with Iran and with Muslim terror, Reagan was a complete patsy.
It was watching Reagan's behavior, not Carter's, that convinced Osama bin Laden that
Americans had no staying power and could be defeated by any opponent that simply refused to
Of course, it was Carter's (and the Nixon-slaying Democrats in Congress) who eviscerated the
American military so we did not have the capability to rescue the hostages from the U.S.
embassy in Tehran.
But perhaps the most important lesson we have still failed to learn is that the self-righteous
dictators of Iran are functionally insane when it comes to international law. The seizure of our
hostages from an embassy (supposedly sacrosanct) and the Iranian government's refusal to give
them back until a moment chosen for no better reason than petulant, childish spite should have
told us of their contempt for international law. Negotiating with or trying to pressure Iranian
dictators makes no sense at all. And letting them have nukes is suicide on our part.
They do not care how many of their own people die "in the service of God," so a threat of
retaliation means nothing. They have demonstrated repeatedly that there is no international
crime so monstrous that they will shrink from committing it. If they have the power to do
something they imagine will advance their stature as standard-bearers of the God-will-help-us-conquer-the-world wing of Islam, they will use it.
And, exactly as with Hitler in the 1930s, the nations that could remove these carrion-lovers from
power in Iran prefer to talk until it's too late. Taking nukes away from Iran after they have them
is going to lead to the incineration of hundreds of thousands of people if not millions. But it will
have to be done -- unless we choose to let the whole world live under their brand of Islam-inspired slavery.
(Only computer-dependent dinosaurs like us would imagine that a computer virus would block
their nuclear program for long; have we forgotten that we created our first nuclear force in the
age of slide-rules?)
And when someone like me states these obvious possibilities, the same kinds of nincompoops
who ridiculed Churchill as a warmonger and prophet of doom in the 1930s will also call such
warnings today overblown and demagogic. I hope they're right -- because it seems obvious that
our current government has no stomach for taking the bold actions that are the only way to
protect the world from Iran's genocidal Hitler-by-committee government.
Friday, January 21st -- National Hugging Day
Let me make one thing clear about National Hugging Day: Nobody ever has the right to decide
unilaterally that someone else needs a hug. Civilized people never administer a hug without
consent. Even handshakes are supposed to be voluntary; hugs, being far more intimate, should
be even more carefully embarked on.
And nobody has the right to demand a hug -- unless the other person is admitted to have the
right to slap them afterward.
Think back to your childhood. How glad were you when adults you hardly knew assumed the
right to enfold you in their arms and squeeze you tight? The only reason you submitted to it was
that you were too small to get away.
People who force hugs on other people are, in effect, treating their victims like little children.
Here's a thought: On National Hugging Day, show respect for others by hugging only those
people in your life with whom you have a close and deep relationship that already includes hugs
freely given and received.
Otherwise, keep your hands to yourself, especially with strangers. Your intention may be to
show warmth and affection, but your unwilling victims are just as likely to receive it as an
overbearing and demeaning gesture. And they will be correct.
Thomas Jonathan "Stonewall" Jackson was born on this day in 1824. A college professor at
Virginia Military Institute in Lexington, Jackson became perhaps the best general in either army
in the Civil War. His men loved him because he led them to feats of stamina and valor (he
marched them so fast and far they took to calling themselves Jackson's Foot Cavalry) and,
above all, because he won battles yet kept his own men's casualties relatively low.
It is one of the bitter ironies of war that Jackson died of wounds received from fellow
Confederates in the confusion of battle near Chancellorsville, VA, in 1863, after masterminding
and executing a brilliant encircling maneuver that nearly destroyed the Union Army of the
Potomac under the command of the boastful, ambitious, and incautious "Fighting Joe" Hooker.
One can make a convincing case that if Jackson had lived to advise and assist Lee at Gettysburg,
the Confederates either would not have made the mistake of fighting there at all, or Jackson
would have found a way to make victory possible.
Wolfman Jack was born in Brooklyn on this day in 1938, though his parents named him Robert
Smith. He became famous as a disc jockey for radio stations in Mexico starting in 1963.
Wolfman Jack was influential as a border radio voice because the Mexican station broadcast at
250,000 watts, five times the legal limit for American stations at the time, and therefore he was
heard over a vast part of the US. He claimed you could drive from New York to L.A. and never
lose his signal. At night, he could be heard in Europe and Siberia.
During his night shift he played blues, hillbilly and other black and white music that wasn't
getting a lot of exposure. After a while, he recorded his shows in Los Angeles and sent the tapes
across the border for broadcasting. It is rumored he also did some of his earlier live broadcasting
from an L.A. studio, with a direct-line connection to the Mexican station, so the scene in
American Graffiti where some of the characters meet him late at night is not impossible.
Ethan Allen was born today in 1738. Leader of the Vermont "Green Mountain Boys" in the
Revolutionary War, Allen thought he had been born on January 10th 1737. Then they revised the
calendar on him and he got a whole new birthday. He also took part in a second revolution --
Vermont's struggle to win and keep its independence from New York State.
As a land speculator, Ethan Allen and his brothers bought the land that eventually became
Burlington, Vermont, which lives in my memory as the bleakest city I have ever personally
visited -- and I've been to Amarillo, Texas, Toledo, Ohio, Clovis, New Mexico, and Yuma,
There is no evidence of his ever having made or sold furniture of any kind.
Saturday, January 22nd -- Manatee Day
Today is the Orange City Blue Spring Manatee Festival in Florida, an occasion for raising
awareness of the endangered West Indian manatee. In 2010 manatees died in record numbers
--double the normal average -- because of "two periods of cold weather," according to
Environment News Service.
They are being disingenuous here. Cold weather doesn't kill manatees, cold ocean
temperatures do, and that takes more than a couple of freak cold snaps. The fact is that global
temperatures -- and therefore ocean temperatures -- have been declining since 1990 (that's why
they talk about "climate change" instead of "global warming" these days). So those cold snaps
came on top of already lower ocean temperatures. Most of the manatee deaths happened last
I recently read a sneering remark in a far-left publication that ridiculed ignorant people who
thought that this unusually cold winter somehow refuted the gospel of global warming. "Have
they forgotten the record-breaking heat last summer?" The fact is that periodic localized
fluctuations like "hottest" summers and "coldest" winters are possible regardless of the overall
trend and mean nothing in themselves.
But since the systematic deceptions of An Inconvenient Truth still linger in the public
consciousness, true-believer publications from the Church of Ecology in all its manifestations try
to avoid confusing the general public by referring to actual global temperature trends; instead,
cold events are "weather" while heat events always include references to melting icecaps and
other signs of "global warming" -- even when they avoid that actual term.
It's like the not-so-unspoken agreement among the liberal media in 2008 that potentially
negative stories about Obama would be ignored or downplayed, while any nasty rumor about
Republicans (or, for a while during the primaries, Hillary Clinton) would be pounded for days
and treated as if it mattered.
Thus an obvious cold event like the manatees dying from low ocean temperatures is treated as a
phenomenon of weather rather than of climate change, while normal behaviors of polar bears
(which are doing just fine, thanks) are trumpeted as proof of something.
Let us all remember that to date, exactly none of the dire warnings and predictions of the global
warming alarmists has actually come to pass; exactly zero evidence of a human cause of global
warming has been presented (the only evidence offered, the so-called "hockey stick," turns out to
have been a hoax); global temperatures do not track with carbon emission levels in any way;
and the plausible scientific explanations for global change (which happen not to involve human
actions) have been largely ignored by the press even though far more scientific evidence (i.e.,
"any") supports them.
When brilliant scientist Freeman Dyson quietly pointed out the dearth of evidence for global
warming or human-influenced climate change, he was immediately a pariah -- speaking
engagements were canceled and he was otherwise ostracized and punished by scientists who are
by far his inferiors in intelligence, accomplishment, and integrity.
When Atlantic Monthly ran an article about Dyson in the December issue, they hired a true-believer to write it (about the same as asking Sean Hannity to write "impartially" about the life
and career of President Obama) and the lead-in to the article actually says, "How could someone
as smart as Dyson be so dumb about the environment.?"
The real question is, how could Atlantic Monthly commit such obvious crimes against
journalistic integrity? Freeman Dyson is not dumb about anything. It's the so-called "science"
that true believers claim in support of global warming that is dumb wherever it's not openly
If they had evidence, they wouldn't have to fake it; if real scientific procedures actually
supported their claims, they would not have to try to hard to silence or neutralize their
opponents. They can't answer Dyson (the Atlantic article is one long, patronizingly vicious ad
hominem attack) so they smear him.
The sad but hilarious thing is that they treat Dyson as if he were crusading against the myth of
global warming, but he hasn't been. They started punishing him the moment he even raised a
doubt. That's how much he scares them.
The intended lesson is: "Beware, scientists. If you tell the truth about unscientific-but-politically-correct dogmas, this will happen to you."
Meanwhile, Freeman Dyson is still one of the greatest thinkers in today's scientific community,
and his candor terrifies the few global warming alarmists who are actually aware of the weakness
of their case. They constantly call on the credentials of their team to support their cause, since
they don't have any evidence; but Dyson out-credentials and out-credibilitizes them all, and all
he talks about is the evidence.
Romantic poet and 19th-century pop idol Lord George Gordon Byron was born in London on
this date in 1788. Described as "mad, bad, and dangerous to know" by Lady Caroline Lamb,
with whom he had one of his many affairs, Byron died of fever in Greece while fighting for
Greek independence against the Ottoman Empire. Greeks revere him as a national hero.
Women swooned as if he were all four Beatles rolled into one. All this despite (or partly
because?) of the fact that he was born with a clubfoot and was lame all his life. His most noted
works are probably Child Harold and Don Juan.
D.W. (David Wark) Griffith was born on this day in 1875. He pretty much invented the
feature-length film, along with many of the editing techniques that made filmic storytelling
possible. He was also a committed racist and segregationist, and his signature film, Birth of a
Nation, ended up being pretty much a paean to the glory of the Ku Klux Klan -- at a time
when the Klan was regarded as responsible for many or most of the lynchings and other crimes
that terrorized black people in America.
Rowan & Martin's Laugh-in premiered on TV on this date in 1968. At the time its quick cuts
and irreverent humor were regarded as shocking, but even more than Saturday Night Live, it
transformed television comedy. The show popularized catchphrases like "Sock it to me," "Here
come de judge," "The devil made me do it," "We don't have to; we're the phone company,"
"What you see is what you get," "Very eenteresting," "Look that up in your Funk and
Wagnalls," "You bet your sweet bippy," "One ringy-dingy, two ringy-dingies," "Have I
reached the party to whom I am speaking?" "Easy for you to say," and "I didn't know that."
(Johnny Carson later perpetuated "I didn't know that" as a catchphrase, which Dana Carvey then
used to imitate him on SNL; Carson also used Funk & Wagnalls as a reference in his Carnac
sketches.) Not even Saturday Night Live permeated the entire American culture the way Laugh-in did, in part because Laugh-in was in prime time.
Laugh-in showcased such performers as Gary Owens (self-consciously absurd announcer),
Ruth Buzzi (feisty spinster), Arte Johnson (Wolfgang the German soldier; the dirty old man),
Judy Carne (sock-it-to-me girl), Lily Tomlin (telephone operator Ernestine; Edith Ann), Henry
Gibson (the Poet), ukelele-playing singer Tiny Tim, Flip Wilson (Geraldine; "Here come de
judge"), and the eventual Oscar winner Goldie Hawn as the dumb blonde.
Richard Nixon appeared on the show saying "Sock it to me"; this gave rise to the idea that
Nixon might have a sense of humor, which contributed to his victory over Hubert Humphrey and
George Wallace in 1968 -- both Nixon and Humphrey, who declined a similar invitation,
thought it made a difference.
Sunday, January 23rd -- National Handwriting Day
This is National Pie Day, but I'm trying to lose weight, so please keep the whole celebration to
yourselves. Besides, I only like banana cream pie anyway, and that's so healthy it's practically a
Elizabeth Blackwell was awarded her degree as a Medical Doctor from the Medical Institute of
Geneva, New York, on this day in 1849, making her the first woman in the U.S. to become a
John Hancock, famous for having the most flamboyant signature on the Declaration of
Independence, was born on this day in 1737. No doubt his famously graceful signature is the
reason this was chosen as National Handwriting Day.
The death of beautiful handwriting as a social grace is deplored by some people, but not by
me. In elementary school I had straight As -- except for a C or D in handwriting. My scrawl
was slow and graceless, and in fourth grade I simply quit. Facing a long assignment that had to
be written out by hand, I switched back to printing. My printing was completely legible, the
letters well-formed, and until they started letting me type my papers, it served me well.
The trouble is, I got faster and lazier the more I "printed" my handwriting, so that I began to
connect the letters with ad hoc ligatures that were no where near as legible as the standard
cursive ones. The result is that I am back to a scrawl again, so illegible that I often cannot make
out the individual letters -- for the excellent reason that many of them aren't there.
It's partly because I type most things that my handwriting has become so bad. I keep expecting
myself to write as quickly as I type. This is not humanly possible, and in the attempt I leave
The fact is that if I just slow down, I can write (well, print) as legibly as ever. In fact, my
handprinting can sometimes look rather nice. But the chance of your seeing such a thing from
me is nil. Even when I'm inscribing books that I'm signing for people, when I'm trying to
remember to write legibly, I constantly speed up and turn from printing to scribbles
undistinguishable from the loops and jags drawn by my preliterate two-year-old granddaughter.
The writing of her five-year-old sister is sometimes behind but also sometimes ahead of mine in
This does not stop me from being exasperated when I can't read other people's handwriting. My
ability to forgive my own laziness and carelessness is practically infinite, but I find people who
share these vices to be worthy of being punished by not getting any pie on National Pie Day.
Monday, January 24th -- National Compliment Day
For those of you who know that this is Belly Laugh Day, I must warn you that "belly laugh"
means a deep booming laugh that is driven by sharp flexions of the diaphragm, which causes
one's upper abdomen (i.e., the "belly") to poke outward for a moment.
It does not mean that this is a day to laugh at people with protruding bellies. And while we're at
it, let's remember that not every woman with a protruding belly is pregnant, so never never never
leap to conclusions and ask strangers "When is it due"?
Men do not get this question very much, regardless of belly size, but we do get the same bizarre
rudeness of strangers thinking that a large belly somehow becomes public property and can be
touched or patted or prodded or strokes or pinched by other people.
This is actually forbidden in the Bible -- I forget the verse, but it's in the Old Testament and
may have a "thou shalt not" associated with it. It might, however, be in the same list as "eye for
eye, tooth for tooth," something along the lines of "whoso toucheth the fat belly of another,
whether it be the fat belly of his wife, of his neighbor, or of a sojourner in the land, shall have the
offending fingers sewn to his nose for a month." This verse needs to be mentioned far more
often during courses of religious instruction.
So fine, at the designated moment (1:24 p.m. local time; I mean it, that's the official time) join
the "Belly Laugh Bounce 'Round the World." Laugh your bellies off, but don't you dare laugh
at bellies, y'all hear?
The commemoration I care about most is National Compliment Day. The idea is to compliment
at least five people, but let me add some important qualifiers:
1. The compliment must be sincere. That is, you must really believe it to be true. Fake
compliments are insulting. (Remember junior high school and "nice hair"?)
2. The compliments may not include any comparisons, because these are also insulting.
"Your hair looks so much better this way." "I'm glad you lost weight; the way your belly hung
over your belt was so unattractive." "I'm glad you've stopped dressing like Olive Oyl." Even
comparisons that are remote in time are forbidden. "Wow, if only you had looked this good in
high school!" is not a compliment.
3. Do not compliment an individual who is with someone else. Period. For instance, the
woman you want to compliment is having lunch with a friend. This is not a good moment for a
compliment on anything currently visible. You can compliment her on the thoughtful letter she
wrote, or on the way she decorated for Christmas, or even her valedictory speech at high school
graduation, but you may not compliment any aspect of her appearance at this moment. Why?
Because if you don't then compliment her friend, you have insulted the friend; and if you do
compliment the friend, it will sound lame and forced and, yes, insulting. Just don't do it! No
compliments to one person who is part of a clump.
4. Any compliment that begins with "at least" is an insult. "At least your clothes look nice"
is not a compliment. "At least you read your talk without stumbling." "At least people didn't
walk out." Verboten.
I was raised by a mother who was and is the world champion of perfect, sincere, and welcome
compliments. She can offer praise that makes you glow with pride and you know that she means
it because she has a knack for finding exactly the thing to praise that you know you did well.
On the other hand, there are a lot of people who have no idea how to compliment others. I know
some people who can't give a direct compliment. They can only quote other people's
compliments. "Jane said she liked your hair." I suppose they are so modest that they think you
won't care about their opinion. But constantly quoting the praise of others leaves the firm
impression that you don't actually agree with the people that you're quoting. "All my friends
say they liked your book," for instance -- that's barely a compliment.
Complimenting is an art, get it? But it's still an art that it is essential for all civilized people to
learn, at least up to the level of competence. For true genius, well, that's my mom.
Tuesday, January 25th -- Around the World Day
On this day in 1890, newspaper reporter Nellie Bly returned to New Jersey, having traveled
completely around the world in 72 Days (she left from Hoboken on 14 November, 1889).
Nellie Bly (the pen name of Elizabeth Cochrane Seaman) was attempting to break the "record"
set by Jules Verne's imaginary hero Phileas Fogg from the novel Around the World in Eighty
Days. Many people had doubted such a feat was possible; she bettered the fictional record by
doing it in only 72 days, 6 hours, 11 minutes, and 14 seconds. There was no nonsense about the
International Date Line -- because, after all, she had read Verne's book!
Scottish poet Robert Burns was born on this day in 1627. It is hard in this post-poetic age to
understand just how famous and beloved Burns was in his time. Even today his birthday is
widely celebrated in Scotland, England, and Newfoundland as "Burns Night." Many of his
poems are unintelligible to American readers because of the phonetic spelling of Scottish dialect.
Burns's poem "To a Mouse, On Turning Her Up in Her Nest with the Plough" gave us the
saying, "The best-laid plans of mice and men often go astray," except that's not what he wrote.
The poem begins:
Wee, sleekit, cow'rin, tim'rous beastie,
O, what a panic's in thy breastie!
Thou need na start awa sae hasty,
Wi' bickering brattle!
Right, I'm sure you completely understood that without any teacher translating it for you. And
the famous quotation actually goes like this:
The best-laid schemes o' mice an 'men
Gang aft agley,
An' lea'e us nought but grief an' pain,
For promis'd joy!
The real power of the poem comes from its last stanza, which I offer in partial translation: "Still
thou art blessed, compared with me / Only the present touches thee: / But oh! I backward cast my
eye / On memories drear, / And forward, though I cannot see, / I guess and fear."
I was seven years old when the first scheduled nonstop transcontinental flight brought the jet
age to America on this day in 1959, as an American Airlines Boeing 707 carried passengers from
California to New York. It was now possible for the self-regarded elites of both coasts to avoid
the rest of America. Now we all live in "flyover country" where, to make up for the dreariness
of our non-elite lives, we turn to guns and religion. But then, I lived in California at the time, so
maybe I was raised as part of the elite after all.
John F. Kennedy held the first televised presidential news conference on this day in 1961, only
five days after being inaugurated, thus forcing far-less-attractive presidents to excruciate
themselves in front of the cameras and the rudesbies of the press at regular intervals. Only
Ronald Reagan ever came close to matching Kennedy's ability to project warmth and ease on
camera. Clinton and Obama only look good because each of them followed a Bush, each of
whom vied with the other for the title of "most awkward president on camera."
On this date in 1921, the play R.U.R., by Karel Capek, premiered at the National Theater in
Prague, Czechoslovakia. "So what?" you ask. Here's what: "R.U.R." stood for "Rossum's
Universal Robots," and the play concerned artificially created human-shaped workers who rebel
against their human masters.
In Czech, "robota" already meant "labor" or "servitude," so Czechs instantly recognized the term
"robot" as "worker." But as the play became a worldwide hit, the word robot stuck to the
concept of "manmade workers" in many languages. Capek's robots were not machines -- they
were chemically created. But other writers quickly attached the word to the more-plausible idea
of machines that do the work of people. And the idea of the machines rebelling against their
human creators is still a staple of movies and other fiction.
Wednesday, January 26th -- Drill It Deep Day
Happy Australia Day, mate. On this day in 1788, a shipload of British convicts arrived briefly
at Botany Bay, Australia, which proved to be unsuitable, and then moved on to Port Jackson,
later the site of the city of Sydney. The Australian prison colony was meant to relieve crowding
in British prisons. Australia Day has been observed since about 1817 and has been a public
holiday since 1838.
If you are lucky enough to be in Brisbane on Australia Day you can enter the Australia Day
Cockroach Races, which is hyped as "the greatest gathering of thoroughbred cockroaches in the
known universe." (They can only say this because they have never gone head-to-head against
Brazilian cockroaches, which I have seen take part in soccer matches.) The races include a
steeplechase, music, a "Miss Cocky" pageant, a "Best Dressed" contest, and more. Though it is
not officially mentioned, presumably beer plays a role.
The first electric dental drill was patented on this day in 1875 by American dentist George F.
Green. Previous dental drills had been hand-cranked; for a few years there was a pedal-operated
drill; but the electric drill revolutionized dentistry. In 1949, a team of New Zealanders
developed the modern high-speed compressed-air drill; the head of the team, John Patrick
Walsh, was later knighted, and, thinking about a hand-cranked drill, I wholeheartedly agree.