Month: March 2015

All About Michelangelo: Part 1 (Battle of the Centaurs and Pope Tag)
Our debatable profile of one of the world's greatest chiselers.

Michelangelo (full name: Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni; nickname: Mickey the Brush), was, much like Mozart in the realm of music, born a long time ago. He was considered one of the greatest artists of anyone’s lifetime, but since he lived primarily in his, it worked out well that he was particularly famous in just it. One of the greatest artists in the western world, his work as a painter, sculptor, architect, engineer and ninja turtle is unsurpassed in its influence, and becomes even more amazing when you realize he didn’t even have Photoshop. Living in what we now call the High Renaissance, and what he called at the time “Just us bunch of people living in Italy”, he has become a model of the typical “Renaissance Man”, along with his rival Italian Leonardo Da Vinci, with whom he would often fight over girls with and challenge to drag races down by the river.

Enjoy your stay at this exceptional… wait a minute

[pullquote type=”right”]Born in 1475, Michelangelo lived in what is present-day Tuscany, Italy, for 88 years, which we know because scientists cut him open and counted his rings, upon which he died in 1564.[/pullquote]Michelangelo is quintessentially ‘New York’: a 4-star grand master of a hotel on the corner of 51st and 7th Avenue. A tapestry of influences, it is wrapped up in authentic Italian elegance, chic style and – wait… sorry; I googled the wrong thing; that’s the Michelangelo hotel in New York. Let’s see… back arrow, there we are. Born in 1475, Michelangelo lived in what is present-day Tuscany, Italy, for 88 years, which we know because scientists cut him open and counted his rings, upon which he died in 1564. As a young boy, he was sent to school to study grammar, but spent most of his time doodling sketches of rocket ships and impossibly cool race cars in his Trapper Keeper. Living in Florence, which was the hub of art and learning at the time, he was able to obtain an apprenticeship with a local painter named Ghirlandaio. Quickly realizing that Ghirlandaio was a house painter and just needed a crew to paint apartment complexes, Michelangelo was fortunate in being chosen by Florence’s ruler Lorenzo de Medici to attend the Humanist Academy (Motto:”It’s An Academy Just For Humans!”) where he studied under a bunch of Italians whose names all end in either “o” or “a”. It was here, at the age of 15, when most of the other boys were playing “Pope Tag” and “I Hope I Don’t Die In Poverty From Smallpox”, that he completed his first sculptures, the Madonna of the Steps and Battle of the Centaurs (which was later made into a movie starring John Travolta).

Snowmen and spoiled capicola

With the death of Lorenzo de Medici in 1497 Michelangelo had to leave the security of the court. After a few unsuccessful years attempting to make a living as a street sculptor, he received a request from the Medici court to make a “snow sculpture” after a rare Florencian snowfall. Unfortunately, this sculpture has been lost to the ages because it melted, but we can only imagine it’s corncob pipe, button nose, and two eyes made out of coal. This return was short lived, as the following year saw the rise of Savonarola, a widespread gastro-intestinal disease caused by spoiled capicola, and, coioncidentally, also a guy who didn’t like secular art and culture. Michelangelo left Florence for Venice, and then Bologna [insert Oscar Meyer joke here], where he was able to obtain a commission to carve some figures of the Shrine of Saint Dominic, patron saint of Italian First Names. By the end of 1494 things had calmed down in Florence, and he returned to begin work on a commission for the Medici family called St. John the Baptist (with head) which came with the unusual request to make it look like “an ancient work” that was just unearthed so it would fetch more money. The jig was up, however, as jigs had not yet been invented, and the buyer, St. Louis Cardinal Raffaele Riario, discovered it was a fraud. However, instead of throwing Leonardo into artist jail, where he would be sentenced to painting highway stripes, the Cardinal was so impressed with his work that he invited Michelangelo to come work for him in Rome.

Where will our wild sculptor’s adventures take us next? Will he be able to stay away from the bad capicola? Can you do a Hail Mary in Pope Tag? Check in next time as we continue our somewhat skeptical profile of Michelangelo.

Paper Fish and Huntigowks (April Fool’s Day)
Everyone’s favorite day to finally get back at their co-workers without getting summarily fired.

April Fool’s Day, sometimes called “All Fools Day”, sometimes called “If You Post-It Note My Office Again This Year So Help Me I’ll Kill You Day”, is considered one of the most light-hearted, if not most annoying days of the year. The practice involves people or organizations playing practical jokes or hoaxes on each other, in hopes of scoring the most hits on the inevitable Youtube video of their roommate rocketing to the ceiling after sitting on the chair you rigged with an air horn. For example, in the early 50s, the BBC ran a feature story on the “spaghetti harvest in Switzerland”. This was humorous because everyone knew that spaghetti was mostly harvested in Italy. Interestingly, the day is not a national holiday in any country; Brazil claimed it was once, but then said “Ha Ha! April Fools!”, except in Portuguese.

Ancient Roman whoopee cushions

[pullquote type=”right”]There is no certain historical reason as to how and when April Fools Day started, although it probably occurred in conjunction with the discovery of the whoopee cushion by Roman Emperor Elagabalus around 218 AD.[/pullquote]There is no certain historical reason as to how and when April Fools Day started, although it probably occurred in conjunction with the discovery of the whoopee cushion by Roman Emperor Elagabalus around 218 AD. However, setting aside a day for pranks is an interestingly common custom in all societies. The French call it “Poisson d’Avril”, which means, apparently, “tape a fish to my back”, because that’s what french schoolchildren do to their friends. When the discover the paper fish, they yell “Poisson d’Avril!” (Literally, “April Fish!”). This may also explain why the French did so poorly in World War II. In Scotland, April Fools’ Day was traditionally called “Huntigowk Day” because Scottish is one weird language, so I’m glad they speak mostly English now. The Polish have a popular rhyme: “Prima Aprilis – uważaj, bo się pomylisz!”, which means, “Geez, can someone tell me how do you pronounce the z with the dot over it again?” It is used as a warning to be careful on April 1, as someone just saw your brother going into your bedroom with four cans of shaving cream. The common prank in Portugal is to throw flour on friends’ faces, continuing the long-standing tradition of everyone being very leery of the Portuguese.

Should you or shouldn’t you?

Those with a positive view of April Fool’s jokes say it promotes camaraderie, laughter, and even exercise, as victims struggle not to fall down stairs with greased hand rails, or experience elevated heart rates due to expertly placed spiders. Naysayers have a negative view of the practical joke practice, partially because it involves potential shame and embarrassment on those being pranked, but mostly because they just didn’t think of the prank first. Some hoaxes are even taken seriously, such as happened with the radio broadcast of “War of the Worlds” in 1938, or when a politician says they are “going to clean up Washington”.

Famous pranks, hoaxes, high jinks and spoofs

  • The King’s College choir in Cambridge released a video statement in 2014 announcing their decision to discontinue using boy sopranos in their choir in favor of adult men who had inhaled helium. King’s College choir season tickets sold out in 2 hours.
  • In 1996, Taco Bell announced that they had purchased the Liberty Bell and were renaming it the “Taco Liberty Bell”. This precipitated a rush by other companies to purchase similar national sites, such as the “MacDonald’s ‘Gotta Love It!’ Gateway Arch”, “K’nex Lincoln Logs Memorial”, “Jefferson’s Bourbon Memorial”, and “Clearasil Craters of the Moon National Monument”.
  • In 1984, the Orlando Sentinel released a story featuring the Tasmanian Mock Walrus, claiming that many people in Florida were adopting it as a pet. The spoof backfired, however, as a band already named “Tasmanian Mock Walrus” sued for copyright infringement, won, and became moderately successful in Australia in the 80s.
  • The British Library announced in 2012 the discovery of a long-lost cookbook containing a recipe for how to cook a unicorn: “Taketh one unicorne and then marinade it in cloves and garlic before finally roasting it on a griddle”. MacDonald’s immediately announced it’s plans for the “Limited Time Only” McUnicorn the next day.
  • On April 1, 1980, The BBC overseas news service reported that London officials were going to update the iconic Big Ben tower clock with a digital readout. The report was immediately seen as a hoax, as everyone knew no one would know what combination of buttons to press in order to set it and it would just keep blinking “12:00” all night.
Photo credit: Lucius Kwok (cc)

Yeah, baby! It’s March Madness!
Your guide to the yearly excitement of March M- WHAT!? YOU'RE CRAZY! HE WAS TOTALLY SET!!

“March Madness” primarily refers to the inter-office semi-legalized gambling that takes place every spring right after everyone becomes an instant self-proclaimed expert on whether [insert random basketball player name here] has the “ups” and “efficiency numbers” to “contribute” the maximum number of “quotation marks” to “complete” this sentence. There are also some basketball games. The tournament is for men and women in U.S. Division 1 NCAA schools, although occasionally a Central American team, such as Gonzaga, sneaks in there. It consists of 68 teams, 67 of which don’t begin with the words “Duke”, involved in a single elimination, no holds barred, last-ditch-effort use of as much hyperbole as possible leading up to the Final Four games contested on the last weekend of play. You’ll know it has arrived when your husband starts shouting “Yeah, baby! One and done!” at your toddler on the potty.

9,223,372,036,854,775,808 to 1

[pullquote type=”right”]Many people participate in “pools”; groups of people who fill out the official NCAA basketball “brackets” partially by using their knowledge of college basketball they just got this morning on ESPN.com[/pullquote]Many people participate in “pools”; groups of people who fill out the official NCAA basketball “brackets” partially by using their knowledge of college basketball they just got this morning on ESPN.com, but mostly by whether Kentucky is any good this year. Most of these efforts are meaningless, however, as the pool is usually won by Susie in the Records Department, who knows nothing about sports and chooses her teams by arranging them in alphabetical order. The odds of filling out a perfect bracket are 9,223,372,036,854,775,808, which is about the same odds as not being in a seat on an airplane right behind the crying baby.

Neutral compositories and frozen pea bags

The teams are grouped into brackets according to division, and then seeded utilizing a highly sophisticated mathematical system involving a Univac computer from the 50s, the volume of expelled air from a deflated basketball, and the current distance Bobby Knight can throw a metal folding chair. After the initial 68 teams are selected, the nominal seeds reciprocate the lower brackets according to girth, then proceed over the course of three weeks, or “time-displacement units”, via pre-selected neutral compositories, to a tri-ethanol compound, where they are then un-bracketed, dried, and displayed on television. At this point, the gross national product output of the country dips to below zero, as a temporary, 3-week virus causes 1 in 7 workers to call in sick. Interestingly, the volume of shouting by irate office managers who can’t find Metcalfe in Accounts Payable has been found to equal roughly the volume of shouting at local sports bars. Also, in the “I didn’t need to know that” facts department, vasectomies rise up to 50% in the days prior to the tournament, along with the sales of frozen bags of peas.

Carlie’s Car Wash Sparkles

Part of the allure of the tournament is the excitement of seeing smaller, normally less successful teams advancing in the tournament against the odds, wowing the crowds with their pluck and tenacity, and confusing them with their strange mascots, consisting of Keydets, Jaspers, Salukis, Toreros, Zips and Paladins. Although a #16 seed has never beaten a #1 seed, that hasn’t stopped your mother from asking what a “seed” is. The tournament has a history of expanding the number of teams about every 20 years, so by the time this column reaches Alpha Centauri, your local Pee-Wee team should be eligible. (Go Carlie’s Car Wash Sparkles! Beat UNLV!)

Now that you’re much more well-informed about the impending domination of your television programming by pontificating guys who like to use the word “bracketologist”, you’ll know when to stay out of your local Buffalo Wild Wings until April. When the NBA playoffs begin.

[feature_headline type=”left” level=”h6″ looks_like=”h6″ icon=”book”]This column is featured in the book Sports Survival Guide for Men[/feature_headline]

Wired Goats and Pooping Marsupials (Coffee)
Coffee drinkers of the world, arise! (Unless you're drinking decaf.)

Coffee is a brewed drink that, as you well know, is best made from the gathered excretions of certain Sumatran marsupials. So, we’re going to – wait, you didn’t know that? Well, here’s some more information for you to now know that you possibly didn’t before. (We’ll tell you more about the marsupial excretions, don’t worry.)

Chuck Taylor high tops and wired goats

[pullquote type=”right”]Most Americans fall into one of two groups, those who love coffee, and those who’ve worked at a Starbucks.[/pullquote]Most Americans fall into one of two groups, those who love coffee, and those who’ve worked at a Starbucks. But considering coffee is a multi-billion dollar industry built on the backs of subway commuters and Apple computer owners, it’s worth taking a look at where this bitter, brown liquid came from. The legend goes, as told by wizened coffee roasters late at night to wide-eyed roaster wannabes wearing Chuck Taylor high tops and wispy goatees, long ago in the Ethiopian highlands, Kaldi the shepherd noticed his goats, after eating berries from a certain tree, behaving energetically and unable to sleep that night. Since half of the goats were studying for midterms, they demanded that poor Kaldi find more of these magic energy berries to help them ace the Trig final, with maybe a little left over for a road trip to Addis Ababa. After reporting his find to the local monastery, the monks there discovered that a drink made from the berries helped them stay awake longer for evening prayers, and sometimes a few extra sessions of bingo. From there, the new drink spread east to Arabia, where it was named qahwah (“Super Energy Foaming Goat Berry Drink”)  and soon eclipsed the previous national drink, oil.

The devil and Pope Clement VIII

Coffee then spread to Italy, where, by the 17th Century (Official Motto: “Um, That Age of Enlightenment Can Kick In Any Day Now”) it had grown so popular that worried opponents began calling it the “bitter invention of Satan”. Satan, who had been actually been perfecting the recipe for Yoo-hoo, was caught off guard and immediately issued a rebuttal. Pope Clement VIII was just about to outlaw the drink when someone pointed out he’d been drinking decaf, whereby he then declared “This devil’s drink is so delicious…we should cheat the devil by baptizing it.” At which point there was the distinct sound of a rim shot followed by polite but subdued applause.

Tailgating and Tea Parties

Coffee reached North America during the Colonial period, where it was initially not as popular as it was in Europe, as alcoholic beverages remained the drink of choice (See: Tailgating, Frat Houses, Congressional Roll Call Votes, etc.). The famous Boston Tea Party in 1773 and the British tea embargo during the War of 1812 (Official Motto: “The One With That Music You Hear During Fourth Of July Fireworks; You Know, With The Cannons”), solidified coffee as America’s preferred hanging-out-after-the-movie-somewhere-drinking-hot-beverages-because-there-was-really-nothing-else-to-do drink.

Don’t forget the marsupial poop coffee

Oh, yes, the marsupial poop coffee. Well, you may have heard of the most expensive coffee in the world, which is carefully harvested by workers at Sumatran coffee plantations utilizing the excretions of the Asian palm civet after it ingests coffee beans. Apparently, these workers wait for this cat-ferret to decide to hit the men’s room and catch up on the latest issue of Sports Illustrated, and from there I don’t even want to think about it. Imagine the kind of factory needed to produce large amounts of this coffee; hidden in a Sumatran jungle somewhere, thousands upon thousands of squeaking marsupials pacing about in dank cages, probably being fed Pancheros carnitas burritos in order to increase their output, hoping that someday the caffeinated version of John Rambo will come to rescue them. Conversely, the world’s least-expensive coffee is made from the eliminations of Skokie, Illinois rats after ingesting the Folgers Country Roast coffee grounds they found in a landfill.

Coffee facts

  • In Yemen, the shards of an ancient coffee mug were found bearing the cuneiform inscription ”I don’t need Google; my wife knows everything.”
  • James Mason registered for the U.S. patent of the coffee percolator on December 26, 1865. He used it to attack the giant squid while playing Captain Nemo in the movie 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.
  • The practice of adding sugar to coffee is considered to have started in 1715 by French monarch King Louis XIV, who was looking for a new way to really hack off the commoners.
  • Arabica coffee trees can produce up to 12 pounds of coffee per year, depending on climate, soil, and whether the coffee cartels are threatening the tree’s family.
  • In Japan, coffee shops are called Kissaten, which means, “Place to continually work on my first novel”.
  • Australians consume 60% more coffee than tea and 2000% more beer than coffee.
  • Coffee is commercially grown in over 45 countries throughout the world, all of which are required to have, somewhere, at least two Starbucks on opposite corners of each other.
  • Coffee, along with beer, peanut butter, worms on the sidewalk after a heavy rain, and Cinnabon shops in airports, is on the national list of the ten most recognizable odors.
  • There were over 200 coffee shops in Venice in 1763. Over three-quarters of them were Starbucks.
  • Coffee processing companies no longer throw the caffeine away after the decaffeination process; they now give it to children whose parents named them Gunner, Baird, River, Younique, and any name that ends with two”E”s.
Photo credit brokenarts cc

We’ll Take The Shakes But Hold The Snakes (St. Patrick’s Day)
It's not easy to be green when Sheila in Human Resources thinks she's Irish.

First, the obligatory St. Patrick’s Day Joke: What’s green and gets made fun of because it involves drinking copious amounts of beer? Answer: Germany! While we admit that that joke was lame and pretty much just made up on the spot, at least it gives us an intro for today’s historically inept treatise on the only holiday named after a saint. Unless you count Saints Valentine, Nicholas, Independence or Arbor. (Mental note: check to see if Punxsutawney Phil is Catholic.)

Sheila in HR and blended McRibs

[pullquote type=”right”]As is the case with many holidays, such as National Beer Day, Oktoberfest, or payday, Saint Patrick’s Day has devolved into being centered around beer.[/pullquote]Saint Patrick’s Day is celebrated every March 17 and commemorates the death of this patron saint of Ireland, although I bet he would prefer we remember the time he was born, or at least when he was somewhat mildly healthy. The day originally was created to remember Saint Patrick and the arrival of Christianity in Ireland, and to celebrate Irish culture and heritage, in general. But, as is the case with many holidays, such as National Beer Day, Oktoberfest, or payday, it has devolved into being centered around beer. The holiday is generally celebrated in America with parades, parties, and being ridiculed and pinched for forgetting to wear green because you’re more worried about finalizing the Stuebens account by the end of the week than pleasing that extrovert Sheila in Human Resources who thinks she’s Irish but is really Lithuanian. It’s also customary to wear shamrocks, three-leafed plants which may have historically been used to explain the Trinity to pagan Irish, but which are now more associated with pale green, mint-flavored beverages available for a limited time (and I don’t mean rancid, blended McRibs).

Saint Patrick’s Day facts

  • Saint Patrick’s day is a legal holiday in Suffolk County, Massachusetts, where it is recognized alongside Evacuation Day, the commemoration of the first successful use of an indoor toilet in the county.
  • The city of Chicago first dyed the Chicago River green in 1962, when a semi truck hauling four tons of lime Jello accidentally crashed through a railing into the river.
  • Hot Springs, Arkansas holds the record for world’s shortest Saint Patrick’s Day parade, with a route that runs 22 feet from Callahan’s Bar to O’Grady’s Tavern.
  • According to Irish lore, Saint Patrick is credited with driving all of the snakes out of Ireland, although the International Snake Society insists they just simply don’t like Irishmen.
  • A 2012 estimate tallies the amount spent on beer on Saint Patrick’s Day in the U.S. at $245 million, which is, coincidentally, the same amount of sick day compensation paid out on March 18.
  • According to legend, Saint Patrick’s original name was Maewyn Succat, but he changed it to Patricius after being mocked mercilessly during second-grade recess.
  • There are no female leprechauns, although you also have to realize there are no male tooth fairies, so it probably all works out.
  • According to legend, leprechauns hide their gold at the end of a rainbow, saving it in hopes that someday they’ll have enough money to buy some female leprechauns.
  • In honor of the day, Indianapolis dyes its downtown canal green, Savannah dyes its downtown fountains green, and Burfis Coleshock of Palm Springs, Florida lets the algae stay in his swimming pool a couple of days longer before he cleans it.
  • A traditional phrase of Saint Patrick’s Day is “Éirinn go Brách”, which translates roughly as “Erin had too much green beer and had to hit the ladies’ room to… you know…”.