The worst year EVER, plus cubic poop

Still looking for laughs in all the right places, I found two in today’s 538 Significant Digits:

536 A.D.

Take solace, fellow living humans: According to some scientists, 536 was the worst year ever to be alive. It was what used to be called the Dark Ages, and a “mysterious fog” darkened entire continents day and night. That fog is now thought to have been caused by a volcanic eruption in Iceland. A plague in Europe followed a few years after, and things were just really nasty all around. Plus, “A Christmas Prince” wasn’t even available yet on Netflix. In any case, I eagerly await 2018’s ranking when the dust settles. [Science]

2 centimeters across

Wombats are the only animal known to drop cubic poop. Each piece is about 2 centimeters across, and wombats collect 80 to 100 poops in a night. They then strategically place them “around their domain” to mark their territory and attract mates. The cubic nature of the poop is thought to be an evolutionary adaptation, improving “stackability” and making the poops less likely to roll away. [Gizmodo]

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“Who will get the pet pig?”

I picked up that question last week — along with a flu shot, my first ride on the Second Ave subway, turmeric and door hinges.

One of the pleasures of visiting my physician contingent is reading celebrity gossip magazines in their waiting rooms. Sometimes I get to my appointments early, just for the mags. Because MD’s waiting rooms are the only places nowadays I get to read gossip. And I love gossip, especially about celebrities I’ve never heard of.

Which brings me to that pet pig. A majority of the celeb “news” is about romantic connections and break-ups. The question of that pig was posed by the magazine in dissecting the painful elements of one such break-up.

I mentioned this to the nurse who was giving me my flu shot. She murmured something about pork chops, and then, “Ooh, I’m so bad.” But that got us off onto a pork chop and apple recipe which she’d tweaked. It sounded wonderful so I’m going to make it soon.

But let’s get back to the celebrities’ pet pig. As I got into the sleek new subway station at 86th Street, I thought of our national nightmare, now somewhat mitigated by the election results. And that thinking flowed into the celebrities and their pet pig.

The segment of our culture represented by those magazines, by the minor celebrities who are their fodder and by “reality” TV personalities who perform to a loose script, has spilled into our politics. Hasn’t it?

“Who will get the pet pig?” To a whole bunch of people, this question must sound like a challenging competition, on a par with figuring out for whom they will vote.

Fortunately, it seems clear the pet pig voters are in the minority in this country.

I am very, very glad. And I’ll let you know how the pork chops turn out.




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“Will no one rid me of this turbulent priest?”

Earlier today I read this ringing line purportedly from Henry II, the first Plantagenet king of England.

But now it was used to describe what an insider said was happening with Trump in the White House: he can’t handle direct confrontation so he pours gasoline all over the people he doesn’t like and waits for someone to light a match.

I used to be an intimate of Henry II. He was one of my two favorite English kings. (The other was the last Plantagenet, Richard III.) So I take contemporary references to him quite personally, especially since I know why he found Becket a major pain in the ass. It had to do with the proper jurisdiction for criminal acts: Henry was correct; Becket was not.

How did I get hooked on English history? I remember the precise moment, and the place where it happened. I was gazing down at a plaque on the floor of Mary Queen of Scot’s bedroom in Holyrood House Palace, Edinburgh. The plaque memorialized the place where David Rizzio, Mary’s secretary and personal musician, was stabbed to death by a cabal of assassins including Mary’s husband.

Right there, on the floor, a man had died, screaming.

History wasn’t “history”; history was real life, real people.

I went home and began to read, and continued reading for many years. What continually absorbed me was not what happened but the people who caused it to happen, or who were there when it happened. Which is how I came to know Henry II, an interesting guy to hang with.

As I again read Henry’s supposed plaint and saw it (mis)applied to Trump, I remembered a far more throbbing passage connected to Henry II — his epitaph, written by his illegitimate son, Geoffrey of Chaucer. The words moved me so powerfully when I first read them, I memorized the whole thing.

And I still remember the last part — which could be and should be a message to Trump, and all would-be autocrats who believe they command the world.

Who reads these lines, let him reflect

Upon the narrowness of death,

And in my case behold

The image of our mortal lot.

This scanty tomb doth now suffice

For whom the earth was not enough.

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