Monday, November 9, 2020

Winter, while praised for its foretelling of the upcoming year-end and the hours of my day which will at that time be returned to me due to a lack of mandatory celebration, still sucks. Shoveling is a literal pain in the everything, and the ever-presence of cold made worse by wind has rendered strolls with my dogs into an unpleasant chore. This will, I hope, be my only intro paragraph this year in which I gripe about the winter weather. I’m not a big griper, but when the act of shoveling (multiple times over the weekend) leaves my muscles in pain, I can’t help it. Also, the slate of celebrations yesterday failed to grab my attention by the pubes and yank, if you know what I’m saying. But still, we had this stuff:

World Urbanism Day

Also known as World Town Planning Day, this was created in 1949 by professor Carlos Maria della Paolera from the University of Buenos Aires. At the time, he was trying to draw attention to a career path that likely few people had even known existed – that of proper urban planning. This is an exercise in architecture, sociology, and even psychology. Urban planning is much harder than it looks, as evidenced by the numerous screw-ups you can spot around the world.

New Orleans is an example of poor urban planning. The city is built in a crucial location geographically (hey there, Mississippi River!), but it’s also built below sea level. And it wasn’t built to withstand the wrath of Katrina and other hurricanes that have damaged it. Boston is another one that civil engineers cite as a mess, with its one-way streets leading to numerous vehicle accidents where they meet. Check out a video clip of the traffic in Dhaka, Bangladesh for a great example of bad planning. Note how surprised you feel at the end when you haven’t seen a single fatality in all that chaos.

Even Brasilia, the capital of Brazil, is a disaster. The city was designed in 1950 and built with the intention of being the nation’s premier city, and they messed it up. There’s no proper infrastructure and the architecture is bland and unable to serve the city’s needs. Someone really needed to send Professor Paolera over to fix that mess.

But now we’ve got a population much more in tune with proper urbanism. Why? We can thank Sim City and other games of its ilk for that. Many of us learned about zoning, about placement of parks, and how to not mess up road organization through these games. To celebrate the day I took some time and played Cities: Skylines, which is a great little urbanism simulator. I hadn’t played this one in months, so it was a treat.

National Dunce Day

I’m not celebrating this one due to any self-effacing notions of stupidity or foolishness, I want that clear. I’m not going to cop to being a dunce just because I never had the good sense to move away from a city that is so close to the Arctic Circle you can feel it in your bones. No, I’m just kind of fascinated by the story behind this one.

It starts with John Duns, a.k.a. Duns Scotus, a Scottish philosopher and priest who lived in the late 13th century. Johnny had some crazy ideas about realism and the univocity of being which I won’t get into here – not because I don’t understand them, I just don’t want to write it all out. That’s it. Let’s go with that story.

Johnny was a philosopher who angered some folks, let’s leave it at that. His philosophy proved (at least to those who saw his way of thinking) that God exists, and that the immaculate conception occurred. His biggest problem was that he was Catholic and a Franciscan Friar, and by the time Protestantism rolled around, his works were slammed by folks who felt he was a smidgen too blasphemous for their tastes. Labelling someone a ‘dunce’ (a play on his last name) came to be an insult to their intelligence. Poor guy. He just wanted to prove we exist, and he came to be a synonym for idiocy.

Such is the nature of who writes history. Now, before we give Johnny a full-on pass here, let’s also point out that he felt that a conical-shaped hat would help to stimulate the brain. It wasn’t until the early 1800s (probably) that the ‘dunce cap’ would come to identify slower students by cruel teachers, but two hundred years earlier the notion of a ‘dunce table’ (where the dunce-types sit in school) was a part of popular culture.

From all accounts, John Duns was one of the most brilliant minds of his age. And now his name refers to a moron. If that isn’t the most dunce-ish example of weird etymology I don’t know what is. Also, yesterday marked 712 years since his death date, so it all ties neatly together. Neatly and weirdly.

Shakespeare Authorship Mystery Day

Yesterday was also the anniversary of the publication of the First Folio. If you’re not familiar with what a First Folio is, it’s like Action Comic #1 for theatre and English language nerds. It’s the O.G. publication of Shakespeare’s works, and there are only 235 still kicking around this planet at the moment. Actually, there are only about 100 copies still circulating of Action Comics #1, so I’d say Bill is doing better for having been around more than 300 years longer.

But today isn’t about Bill Shakespeare. Or maybe it is. You may have heard there are numerous theories circulating that he didn’t write his own stuff. Just for fun, here are the most viable suspects to have really written all those texts that have infuriated high school kids over the years:

Christopher Marlowe: He was the superstar playwright of England before Bill showed up. He died mysteriously in 1593… or did he? Maybe he just faked his death and kept writing to hide from his enemies.

Sir Francis Bacon: A brilliant mind, and was accused of having possibly written those plays even back then. But why? I mean, the guy invented bacon, right? What else did he have to accomplish? (note: I may be cutting back on my research – I hope it doesn’t show)

Mary Sidney: The first woman to publish a play in the English language. It would have been hard to be a superstar in this field and be a woman back in the day. Did Bill help her out? I mean, “help her out” as in allow her to witness her words on the stage… if this one is true, he kind of stole her thunder for a few centuries too.

Thomas Sackville: He wrote the first play in what would come to be known as Shakespeare’s style. Maybe he was the brilliance behind all of those plays, and he just felt they wouldn’t carry over into centuries of academia if he published them under the name ‘Sackville’.

Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford: He traveled to a number of the locations in the plays, and some of his life experiences are in the plays. He also wrote some stuff that sounds downright Shakespearean. He’s a definite maybe.

Bill Shakespeare: Maybe we’re all reading too much into this, and Bill did Bill’s own work himself. But we’ve never seen his handwriting, apart from a few really shaky signatures. Folks who knew him didn’t know he was a writer. At his death, he owned no books, pens or paper.

In the end, we’ll probably never know this one, but it’s worth reminding ourselves that behind some of the world’s most brilliant works lies some of the world’s most fascinating mysteries.

World Pianist Day

Yes, we already celebrated National Piano Day and National Piano Month by listening to some great pianists. So why not another? It’s not like there’s a shortage of brilliance on that instrument. This was the soundtrack to a chunk of my day yesterday, and it was a treat.

We are really rolling toward the thunderous conclusion here, aren’t we? Here’s how we will be keeping the crazy going today:

  • National Scrapple Day. I actually wanted to try this, but I was having trouble finding recipes that don’t say “cut the sinews from the heart” or “boil the entire butt.” I’m not joking.
  • National Louisiana Day. Our favourite Cajun restaurant may be closed today, but we have celebrated this a few days early.
  • Go To An Art Museum Day. Thanks, Covid. You killed another one.
  • World Freedom Day. Given the results of the election having landed last Saturday, hopefully freeing us from having to hear about the damn election for a while, this is showing up late.
  • Carl Sagan Day. Hey, he’s pretty awesome.
  • National Chaos Never Dies Day. This may be appropriate, depending on how the day goes.

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