The Random Yak

In Better Company Than I Thought

Filed under: Frivol,History Yaks — Random Yak @ 10:35 am on April 19, 2010

I don’t visit libraries much.

It has nothing to do with the books.  As a confessed bibliophile, I love them.  I read often, and I read a lot, and any place I can find interesting books is – almost by definition – a good place.

The problem with libraries isn’t that they have books, or even that they’ll let me take them.  It’s more that they expect me to return them.  And that isn’t exactly my strong suit.

It’s not that I don’t want to give the books back when I’ve finished them.  I don’t mind borrowing and returning (though I do have to remind myself not to read them in my usual fashion – pen in hand and notes in margin).  I don’t even mind buying the ones I want to keep.  It’s more that I’m forgetful by nature, and the idea of “read this now and return it in two weeks, on a date certain for our purposes but not necessarily fitting easily into your schedule (yeah, I wander)” – well, nice in theory, but years of practice prove otherwise.

I’m not normally an irresponsible yak, but among My Great Failings is this: I cannot get a library book back on time.  Strange as that seems, it’s true.  Between circumstances conspiring against me, a mind that leaks like a sieve on the best of days and …. (SQUIRREL)

What was I saying?  Oh, right.  I’m also prone to distraction.

At the end of the day, I’m just not good about returning library books.  In fact, “not good about it” seriously understates the problem.  I crouch and run past libraries – even ones I’ve never visited before – because I’m sure when they institute the Library Sniper Program to Eliminate Unexcused Tardiness in Returns, I’ll be the first one between the crosshairs.  Public (Library) Enemy #1.

All of which is a very long setup to a relatively short payoff for you, but a lifetime’s worth of consolation for me.

I’m in better company than I thought.

In October 1789, George Washington borrowed two books from the New York library (one on International law and the other containing debate transcripts from the British House of Commons). Although the books were due back in November (1789…), the library recently reported them … still missing.

Making Washington’s books approximately 220 years overdue.

Suddenly, that 4-month late fee I ran up the last time I thought I’d prove I could actually borrow a book and return it on time doesn’t look so bad.  In fact, nothing I could possibly do would equal Washington’s colossal late fees (estimated at somewhere between $90,000 and $300,000, depending on how you adjust for inflation and whether or not there’s compounded interest involved).  Of course, he could decide to just pay for the books, but antique manuscripts like those sell for a pretty penny these days.  Either way, he’s in more trouble than I am.

Even putting to rest the jokes about the deceased I find it strangely comforting to learn that I’m not alone in this difficulty.  Ironically, Washington may have failed to return them for exactly the same reason I do … he got started on something else, and the books got forgotten in the process.  It probably wasn’t intentional, and almost certainly would have embarrassed him if he knew.  Which, being George Washington, he probably did.

In fact, I bet he ducked when he went by the library too.  In his day, they did still use snipers.

(Tip of the horns, Lowering the Bar)

By U.S-E.R Demand: More Random Thanksgiving Facts

Filed under: Frivol,History Yaks,Holyday Yaks — Random Yak @ 2:09 pm on November 19, 2009

A romp through the referrer logs indicates two interesting, self-educating facts:

1. Many, many people have stopped by recently looking for “Random Thanksgiving Facts.”

2. The Random Yak is the #2 site in the Googleverse for Random Thanksgiving Facts.

Never let it be said The Yak didn’t give the people what they asked for. (Well, unless it was illegal, immoral, or fattening – and in the latter case, that’s just because I already licked it and you really don’t want yak germs, do you?)

On with the facts:

Random Facts about Thanksgiving Turkeys

1.  The type of turkey eaten by the Pilgrims, and common to North America, is Meleagris gallopavo, which is the largest of the wild turkey varieties.  (Curiously, the North American politician, Malintendis spendomucho, is also the largest turkey in its class.)

2.  Although almost all male turkeys have a feathered “beard” that sticks out from their chest, 10-20% of female turkeys also have beards.  (A characteristic which, fortunately, does not also translate to the North American politician population, except possibly in San Francisco.)

3.  Turkeys have a variety of vocalizations.  Regular readers of the blog know that the standard turkey call is not “gobble gobble” but rather Oobie oobie oobie.

4.  Approximately 88% of the homes in the U.S. serve turkey on Thanksgiving Day.  (Which leaves me with a sneaking suspicion that someone’s having Tofurky instead.  If you’re in that unfortunate 12%, permit me to apologize in advance for your relatives and their culinary preferences.)

Random Facts About Thanksgiving Dinner

1.  No matter what they told you, your relatives do not like yams.  Or parsnips.

2.  If you check with them, and they tell you I’m wrong…refer to item #1.

3.  A yam is not the same thing as a sweet potato.  Ironically, true yams are sweeter than sweet potatoes, but contain less vitamin C.  (Yams are also toxic if eaten raw, whereas sweet potatoes are merely nasty.)

4.  The amount of gravy you should serve to a child under the age of 8 is directly  proportional to the amount you want spilled on the carpet, and inversely proportional to the number of peas said child is likely to fling at his cousins when your back is turned.  (In other words: if you can’t trust him with the peas…what on earth possessed you to give him Liquid Carpet Stain.)

Stay tuned.  More facts to come …

Always Remember. Never Forget.*

Filed under: History Yaks,Holyday Yaks,Lessons Learned,PoliYaks — Random Yak @ 3:04 pm on September 11, 2009

[Reposted from September 11, 2007.  September 11, 2006 post is here.]

Six years*  ago this morning, a telephone call from The Random Sibling woke me from a sound and peaceful sleep.

“Is your TV on?” His voice demanded into my sleeping ear.  “Are you watching this?”

“Watching what?”  I looked at the clock.  My alarm wouldn’t go off for another half hour.  “What’s going on?”

“We’re under attack.  They’re flying planes into buildings.  Turn your TV on NOW.”

September 11, 2001. (more…)

Adieu, Amadeus

Filed under: History Yaks — Random Yak @ 12:06 pm on December 5, 2008

December 5, 1791: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart dies, leaving the world a more quiet place.

He left a wife, many great compositions, and an unfinished Requiem which (as he confessed the day before his death) he composed in memory of himself.  Completed by Franz Sussmayr, the piece remains known simply (and appropriately) as “Mozart’s Requiem.”

Mozart has always been one of my favorite composers.  In 1985, I had the privilege to visit a memorial to Mozart located at his former home in Vienna, Austria.  During my visit, I noticed someone playing the antique piano in one room of the house.  Only afterward did we learn the pianist was in fact a visiting Russian master, who happened to visit the house that day and asked permission to play Mozart’s works at the memorial site.

Joseph Haydn, a close friend of Mozart, once said of his friend, “The world will not see such talent again for 100 years.”

Sorry, Joseph…your estimate was far too low.

Fries: the Communist Anti-Drug?

Filed under: History Yaks — Random Yak @ 8:54 am on January 31, 2008

January 31, 1990: the first McDonald’s Restaurant opens in Moscow.  Although too late to save me from the gastrointestinal perils of Soviet cuisine (I visited back in ’86), the first McDonald’s in the USSR opened to staggering crowds and overwhelming approval.

Two years later, the Soviet Union fell.  The former Soviet bloc splintered into independent states, and the Iron Curtain lifted on a new era – doubtless ushered in by the greater reality experienced by people the world over, and now available to the citizens of Moscow and the Soviet Union:

Fries Uber Alles. 

Now, some might claim the Soviet Union really fell because of political instability, the fact that Communism doesn’t work in practice, or the supremacy of Natural Law.  All viable options.  But if you really study the situation, I think you’ll find the real truth lies in a somewhat higher-calorie solution.  Once the masses get their hands on a Big Mac and fries, the world will never be the same.

Trackposted to Pirate’s Cove, Leaning Straight Up, and The Pet Haven, thanks to Linkfest Haven Deluxe

Today in History…Guestblogging!

Filed under: History Yaks,Just Yaks — Random Yak @ 1:32 pm on July 9, 2007


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A Summer Without Water

Filed under: History Yaks — Random Yak @ 9:46 am on June 20, 2007

June 20, 1975: Steven Spielberg’s new filmmade box office history and ruined the careers of anyone hoping toopen up a hot-dog or lemonade stand on the beach in the summer of ’75.

Why? Because it’s awfully hard to sell hot dogs and lemonade on a deserted beach, and after Jaws, some of us weren’t going anywhere nearbodies ofwater large enough to hold even a small shark.

Jaws, (like Star Wars just two years later) represented “something new” in motion pictures. The industry had been making “horror” films for years, along with action films and mysteries, but Spielberg’s adaptation of Peter Benchley’s 1973 novel about a seaside resort terrorized by a giant man-eating shark represented something new.

The film stands upfairly well over time, assuming the watcher can forgive the somewhat outdated special effects. Doubt me?WatchJaws andgo swimmingafter dark in water too deep to stand up in.Dollars to doughnuts you tell yourself”there’s no shark in this water,” at least once. Yes, it’s ’70′s cheesy in places, but that’s all part of the fun.

Tip of the horns, History.com

Trackposted to Nuke’s news and views, Webloggin, Maggie’s Notebook, and The Pet Haven Blog, thanks to Linkfest Haven Deluxe.

Decoration Day: A Time to Remember

Filed under: Ack Yak,History Yaks — Random Yak @ 1:24 pm on May 30, 2007

May 30, 1868: A new holiday/observance is created by proclamation by General John Logan (Grand Army of the Republic).

Dedicated to the memories of the Civil War soliders who died defending their country and originally known as ‘Decoration Day,’ the observance we now remember mostly as”that three-day weekend at the beginning of summer” began with a ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery which included 5,000 volunteer participants decorating the graves of 20,000 Union and Confederate soldiers.

DecorationDay officially became a U.S. national holiday in 1971 by declaration of Congress,at which time “Memorial Day” became a fixed observance recognized on the last Monday in May.

To our servicemen (and women), past, present and future: thank you for your service. Thank you for your bravery, your dedication and your willingness to place yourselves in harm’s way so that the rest of us do not have to. Thank you for standingliterally and figuratively in the line of fire, oftenat home and abroad, in order to do what must be done. Thank you for keeping me safe. Thank you for letting me sleep at night knowing The Random Family won’t be awakened by abomb, a government raid or any of the terrors the come in the night for people in countries less free and lesswell-protected than my own.

You have doubtless heard these words before, and I hope you will hear them many, many times again, from as many others as live beneath the shadow of your protection. May your detractors come to understand, appreciate and accept that your actions secure their ability to disagree, and be humbled by the experience.

May God protect you, at home and abroad. May He watch over your families, and may He bring you home safely, one way or another.

Tip of the Horns, History.com.

First To the Top of the World

Filed under: History Yaks — Random Yak @ 10:51 am on May 29, 2007

May 29, 1953: Sir Edmund Hillary (though not yet a knight of the realm)and Tenzing Norgay achieve the first successful summit of Mount Everest (aka Chomolungma).After a freezing night at 27,900 feet, the New Zealand climber and his Nepalese Sherpa guide made their way up to the South Summit,climbeda 40′ vertical stone obstacle (afterward known to climbers as the “Hillary Step” – and still one of the most dangerous portions of an Everest climb, due to its technical difficulty and extreme elevation) and made their way to the top of Earth’s highest peak.

The climbers arrived on the summit around 11:30a.m. News of theclimb quickly reached England and the rest of the world -though the summit success didn’t becomepublic knowledge until June 2, which also happened to be coronation day for Queen Elizabeth II. Hillary received his knighthood shortly after his return from Nepal. Tenzing Norgay, a hero in his native Nepal, received the British Empire Medal. (For the record, the Queen can only knight citizens of Great Britain or nationsbelonging tothe British Commonwealth. As a citizen of Nepal, Tenzing Norgay did not qualify for the honor.)

The first successful summit of Everest from the Chinese side occurred in 1960, seven years after Hillary and Tenzing’s historic climb.

To this day, the Sherpas of Nepal provide critical assistance and support to expeditions attempting to climb the Nepalese side ofEverest. Several members of Tenzing Norgay’s family have climbed to the summit of Everest, including his son Jamling Tenzing Norgay, who not only reached the summit but served as climbing leader for the IMAX expedition which climbed (and filmed) Everest in 1996, the year a killer storm trapped several expeditionsat the top ofthe mountain. (For the record, his book Touching My Father’s Soul is a good read.)

For anyone who appreciates high-altitude climbing and mountaineering, May 29 holds special meaning. In reaching the top of the world, Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay opened a road many would follow, and many more would appreciate through books and film. Some may argue the wisdom (and danger) of opening the high mountains to exploration, but no one can argue the strength and determination these men exhibited, or the amazing achievement represented by their successfulsummit bid, madewith a limited level of gear and support unthinkable to most modern expeditions.

Tip of the Horns, History.com

Trackposted to Pirate’s Cove, Webloggin, third world county, Conservative Cat, and Big Dog’s Weblog, thanks to Linkfest Haven Deluxe.

Washington or Bust!

Filed under: History Yaks — Random Yak @ 1:53 pm on May 15, 2007

May 15, 1800: By order of President John Adams, the federal government of the United States closed up shop in Philadelphia and moved to Washington, D.C.

Although the government officially relocated (read: “opened for business as usual”) on June 11, 1800, the May 15 decree formally ended Philadelphia’s reign as the center of government for the United States.

Many high school (and sadly, college) students apparently don’t realize Philadelphia was ever the functioning seat of U.S. government – which of course explains why so many of them wonder at the large number of U.S. government artifacts which still call Philadelphia home.

Now they know.

(Tip of the horns, History.com)

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Filed under: History Yaks — Random Yak @ 1:14 pm on March 30, 2007

(No, that’s not a typo in the title)

March 30, 1870: the 15th Amendment becomes part of the United States Constitution, following ratification by the requisite 75% majority of individual states. The Amendment granted suffrage to manyU.S. citizens previously denied the right to votedue to the color of their skin.

In case you haven’t read it lately:

Section 1: The Right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.

Section 2: The Congressshall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.”

On March 31, 1870 Thomas Peterson Mundy became the first African American to exercise his 15th Amendmentright to vote in the United States.

As you head to the polls (much) later in the year, remember the value of the right you exercise, and the hard work, dedication and sacrifice with which that right was won. If you’re considering not voting, consider how you’d feel if you didn’t have the choice – and then get up off the couch, turn off the TV, and vote.


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Today in History:

Filed under: History Yaks — Random Yak @ 8:18 am on March 28, 2007

March 28: famous for, among other things, the Three Mile Island nuclear disaster (1979), the end of the Spanish Civil War (1939) and…

the death of a man named Guillotin.

Guillotin was the mastermind behind the invention which bears his name (plus or minusa good solid English ‘e’).His modern marvel ofefficient execution, while inefficient to build, representedGuillotin’s “philanthropic gesture” for promotingongoing reform of the French criminal justice system. (His lesser known philanthropic gestures for the benefit of France, known to history as”soap” and “deodorant” never enjoyed quite as much popularity.)

Intended to demonstrate French “intellectual and social progress,” the machine originally met with mixed reviews. (Let’s face it – when it comes to entertainment,”progress”ain’t got nothin’ ona good hanging.) Despite a rough start, the guillotineneatly cut through the oppositionand became the preferred method of executionimmediately after the French Revolution. (As a side benefit, it also made one heck of a fruit salad.)

Although Guillotin died on March 28, 1814 the French continued executions by guillotine until the 1930s (at which time they decided to cut off the practiceonce and for all).

Tip of the horns, History.com

Trackposted to The Bullwinkle Blog, A Blog For All, Jo’s Cafe, and stikNstein… has no mercy, thanks to Linkfest Haven Deluxe.


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