Events and Holidays

Pompous Circumstance: It’s Graduation Time!
Showing our pride in all of your accomplishments by making you wear a silly hat.


Graduates, you are probably being told that now is the time in your life for dreams, hope, and fear of having to work for minimum wage, as you prepare for this next, ridiculously crucial, almost suffocatingly super-important step in your life. But don’t be nervous, at least not until your first college bill comes due, as we are here to help you to understand the history behind this most important of ceremonies involving thin, flammable robes.

It’s Bird! It’s a Plane! It’s a Mortarboard!

[pullquote type=”right”]The cap, called a mortarboard, is square and flat, apparently to maximize the amount of injury caused when it is tossed into the air at the end of the ceremony.[/pullquote]The graduation gown you are wearing originated in the Middle Ages, when scholars wore long gowns to protect themselves from the cold in unheated lecture halls, because black North Face jackets hadn’t yet been invented. The cap, called a mortarboard, is flat and square, apparently to maximize the amount of injury caused when it is tossed into the air at the end of the ceremony. The tassle was added in the 19th century in order to help swat away flies, and it is traditionally worn on the right side until the student graduates, when it is moved to your 3rd dresser drawer next to that John Mayer concert t-shirt you never wear because it’s too small but you can’t bring yourself to throw it away because you paid 29 bucks for it. The term “mortarboard” is used to describe the cap because of its resemblance to a tool used in masonry, although we’re not sure what masonry tool requires a tassel. The traditional tossing of the hat comes at the end of the ceremony, and symbolizes the graduate’s flight into the future, as well as, for nerds like us, the glorious end of getting stuffed into lockers.

Pomp and Eruption?

The composition “Pomp and Circumstance”, which you will most likely hear during the ceremony, was composed by Sir Edward Elgar, and became a graduation tradition at the beginning of the 1900’s. It was first used at Yale University (Official Motto: “If You Have To Ask, You Can’t Afford It”), where Elgar was asked by Yale music professor Samuel Sanford, of the hit TV show “Sanford and Son”, to compose a piece of music that would keep parents awake for the interminable 3 hour ceremony that stretched before them. Elgar, of course, failed miserably, but even so, other Ivy League schools such as Princeton, Rutgers, Faber, Columbia, Universal, Dreamworks and Colleen’s School of Personal Poise adopted the song, as all they had at the time was a lame cover of Van Halen’s “Eruption” played on two tubas and a xylophone.

Val, Vivian, Velma and Vicki

Diplomas were originally made from sheepskins in ancient Rome, as sheep were apparently the most readily available writing surface, with the downside that they tended to jam in your printer unless you used the manual paper tray. These days, parchment paper is used, on which the graduate’s name, date of the ceremony, and seal of the school is printed, along with the Latin phrase, “Sonuerunt, et non opus est MacDonalds” (“Good Luck Not Working At MacDonalds”). The “Valedictorian”, whose name is derived from the Latin words vale dicere (“say farewell to your savings”), is a student chosen to give a closing speech to their fellow students, quite often reminding them that they have great potential, should strive for their dreams, and eventually move out of their parent’s basement even though the WiFi is free. The Valedictorian is usually chosen because of their high grade point average and ability to communicate encouraging concepts such as “subsidized loans” and “parental promissory notes”. Along with the Valdictorian, there is a Vivian, Velma, and Vickivictorian, whose background role it is to sing “doo wop” and “oh, yeah!” at crucial points in the speech. Then there is the Salutatorian, whose job it is to salute the Valedictorian because of their higher grade point average and then leave the stage.

So, graduates, as the world of opportunity stretches before you like an extremely long line at MacDonalds, we invite you to remember, when you throw your hat, aim it at the guys who stuffed you in your locker.
[feature_headline type=”left” level=”h6″ looks_like=”h6″ icon=”book”]This column is featured in the book Dubious Knowledge (Book One)[/feature_headline]

Photo Credits: Werwin15 cc

Making the Most of Mother’s Day
That one day a year when we honor the ones who birthed us, even though we're still not sure why we can't jump on the bed.

Hey kids, Mother’s Day is this Sunday, which means it’s time to put down the scissors you’ve been running with, take the cat out of the drier and go beg dad to take you to the mall to buy a Mother’s Day card. Keep in mind he has forgotten as well, so you might learn a few new words while he drops the remote and grabs the car keys.

[feature_headline type=”left” level=”h6″ looks_like=”h6″ icon=”asterisk”]You might also like “Fit to be Tied on Father’s Day”[/feature_headline]

The History

[pullquote type=”right”]That special day where moms everywhere get to pretend they like the last-minute gift of a pack of spark plugs they got from their husbands.[/pullquote]But first, a little history about Mother’s Day, that special day where moms everywhere get to pretend they like the last-minute gift of a pack of spark plugs they got from their husbands. Most people think that Mother’s Day was started by giant greeting card companies just to make mountains of guilt money, but it was actually started by Anna Jarvis in 1907, who loved her mother so much that she sold her to Hallmark. Ha ha! Just kidding; she actually led a campaign to establish Mother’s Day as an official National Holiday in honor of her mother, Ann. It was first designated as such by West Virginia in 1910, and then quickly by the rest of the states, because apparently West Virginia suggested that it would be a shame if some “accident” happened to the other states’ porch lights. Finally, on May 8 in 1914, Congress passed a law that designated the second Sunday in May as Mother’s Day, then drove away in their shiny new cars, generously donated by the Greeting Card Industry.

In Other Countries (even Timor Leste)

Many people don’t know that Mother’s Day is not just celebrated in the United States by children who are reminded by their father’s who were reminded by their wives that Mother’s Day is tomorrow, but also in many other countries. In Argentina, Mother’s Day is celebrated in October, probably because they get cheap cards leftover from us in May. In Timor Leste it is celebrated on November 3, because nobody knows where Timor Leste is so it won’t matter if you’re not there to celebrate it with them. In South Korea it is known as “Parent’s Day”, as South Korea has finally figured out that the best way to get dads to remember Mother’s Day is if they expect to get something, too.

Choosing a Card

Choosing an appropriate card for Mother’s Day is not nearly as crucial as, say, for your wedding anniversary, where that card that farted when you opened it seemed a lot more funny in the store. As far as your mom is concerned, you could give her a bar-mitzvah card as long as you signed it “love” and “XXXOOO” and she wouldn’t care, even if it did make a fart noise when you opened it (“Mazel Tofrrrrrrrrppp!”). Many children choose to go the time-honored route of the homemade card, where you draw a heart on the back of an old utility bill with a dirty stick, tape a cotton ball on it and watch your mom cry and put it on the refrigerator for the next 20 years. That is what makes moms great, and why dads get stuck with the “I’d-rather-be-golfing” fart cards.

So kids, remember that every day is children’s day, and dads, just try to remember where you left your car keys, but also remember that Sunday is the day to celebrate the moms who shower us with wisdom, love and occasional mild guilt. Now I need to get some bed jumping in before my daily run around the house with scissors.
[feature_headline type=”left” level=”h6″ looks_like=”h6″ icon=”book”]This column is featured in the book Dubious Knowledge (Book One)[/feature_headline]

Photo credit Taylor Ward

Horsing Around with Derby Days
We take the Kentucky Derby out for a Dubious Knowledge speed test.

The hint of spring is in the air, the tulips are blooming, and, unless you are a member of Congress, your taxes are done. That means it’s time for that historic springtime tradition featuring humongous hats, the Kentucky Derby. Much like curling in the Winter Olympics, except without the excessive boredom, this is for most of us our one chance a year to see tiny men coercing large animals around a dirt track. But the spectacle that is the Derby is more than just the race; it is the culmination of the two-week-long Kentucky Derby Festival, a party celebrating all that is horse racing in America, which we assume to mean gambling. Plus mint juleps; don’t forget those.

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The Most Exciting Two Minutes in Sports

[pullquote type=”right”]A large drape of 564 red roses, one for each of the million dollars lost by the last-ditch losers who bet on the 52-1 horse, is placed on the neck of the winner.[/pullquote]The race is one and a quarter miles, about the distance I’ve run the entire past decade, and is held at world famous Churchill Downs, so named because it was bombed by Winston Churchill during World War II. Or a guy named Winston got bombed there during two World Wars; we’re not sure. The race features colts (male horses) or geldings (male horses who no longer need to worry about creating more male horses). Fillies (attractive women in western movies) have their own race called the Kentucky Oaks, which they seem to be fine with, as the National Organization for Women does not include horses at this time. Derby horses are usually three years old, as the two-year-old’s think everything is “mine!”, and four-year-old’s are busy getting ready for preschool. The race is coined “The Most Exciting Two Minutes In Sports”, a  name it took when it surpassed Arm Wrestling in 1959. It also called “The Run for the Roses”, as “Prance for the Roses” seemed a little too horse-ish. A large drape of 564 red roses, one for each of the million dollars lost by the last-ditch losers who bet on the 52-1 horse, is placed on the neck of the winner. It is the first leg of the Triple Crown; the other two legs being the Belmont Stakes and the Preakness. The fourth leg is presumed missing, possibly stolen by a disgruntled jockey, giving the whole series kind of a wobbly feel in our opinion. Sir Barton became the first Triple Crown winner in 1919; we’re not sure what place his horse came in.

Derby Facts

  • The race was begun in 1875 by Col. Meriwether Lewis Clark, who, despite having a famous name, still got beat up at recess. It has been run continuously since, although I imagine if the weather is really bad in the winter they take a break so the horses can come inside for some hot chocolate.
  • The first race was run on May 17, 1875, in front of 10,000 spectators, most of whom were just there to see a horse crash, and included a field of 15 three-year-old horses. A second, less-popular race of 3 fifteen-year-old horses was also run, some of who are still finishing.
  • The fastest time posted in the Derby was 1 minute, 59 2/5 seconds in 1973, when Secretariat won, handily beating Proletariat and Judas Iscariot In A Chariot for first place.
  • The Derby also has the largest purse of any of the modern stakes races; an immense, rose-patterned Vera Bradley bag kept securely in a vault on the grounds.
  • The mint julep, a drink consisting of bourbon, mint and sugar syrup, is the traditional drink of the race, and can also be used as a cough expectorant or aftershave.
  • [tweetability]Women traditionally wear large, elaborate hats, which are used to hide the fact that they are drinking so many mint juleps.[/tweetability] Men wear whatever they want, because, well, they’re men.
  • Another tradition is the playing of My Old Kentucky Home, by Stephen Foster, although he’s getting pretty old now and it’s getting kind of embarrassing when he can’t hit the high notes.

So if you’re ever in Kentucky in the spring time, make sure you plan to experience our nation’s “Most Exciting Two Minutes In Sports”. Unless, of course, there’s an arm wrestling tournament going on at the same time.
[feature_headline type=”left” level=”h6″ looks_like=”h6″ icon=”book”]This column is featured in the book Dubious Knowledge (Book One)[/feature_headline]

Photo Credit: WaveCult (luis.m.justino) cc, Deanna Wardin @ Tattoo Boogaloo cc