Monday, January 26, 2015

At the Drop of a Hat

Political wheels are already getting oiled for the 2016 presidential bandwagons. Numerous hats have been tossed into the ring, especially on the Republican side. Does anyone still wear a hat? Not so much, but they still get thrown proverbially into that ring. Why?

Stories vary, and about the only thing they agree upon is that the phrase originated in nineteenth-century America. Most sources trace its origin to the sport of boxing. In the early nineteenth century, almost all men wore a hat or cap of some kind. Early fights were less organized than today’s sport and often took place in an informal circle surrounded by a noisy crowd. At the end of a fight, if a new challenger wished to take on the champ, the clearest way to make known his intentions over the din was to throw something into the open space—and the handiest thing for most people would be their hat.

On early citation was found in 1805 in The Sporting Magazine, which reported of a boxer, “Belcher appeared confident of his success, and threw his hat into the ring, as an act of defiance to his antagonist.” In 1810, there is a reference in a publication called The Mirror of Taste that explains in more detail how the hat-in-the-ring process worked: “A young fellow threw his hat into the ring and… the … umpire called out ‘a challenge’...He then walked round the ring till a second hat was thrown in, and the umpire called out, ‘the challenge is answered.’" 

The first use of the phrase in a political context may have been in 1912, when Theodore Roosevelt, an avid amateur boxer himself, announced his intention to challenge William Howard Taft for the U.S. presidency by proclaiming, "My hat's in the ring."

Other soi-disant authorities attribute the first use of the phrase to much later sources. One says it was the boxer John L. Sullivan, heavyweight champion from 1882 to 1892, who originated the phrase, as he challenged spectators to a round in the ring with him. Another tale has Woodrow Wilson attending a circus performance in 1916 and announcing his candidacy for a second term by throwing his hat into the circus ring. Based on that unlikely event, some people credit P. T. Barnum, founder of “The Greatest Show on Earth,” as the coiner of the term. 

The Bard of Buffalo Bayou doesn’t often wear a hat (unless he's keeping something under it), so he is unlikely to throw one anywhere. That doesn’t stop him (alas!) from commenting when others do.
            Two, four, six, eight—
            It’s almost time to nominate!
            Republicans must dig and delve
            To narrow down their field of twelve.

            It might be Romney’s turn again—
            Does he know when he should say when?
            He’s in the same boat with Santorum,
            They know the ropes, we can’t ignore ‘em.

            And way down South, that purple corridor,
            The enigmatic state of Florida
            Cannot decide to pull or push—
            Propelling Rubio or Bush.

            Texas, too, thinks more is merry,
            Their favorite son is Cruz—or Perry?
            Poor Perry may be in a hole
            Unless he turns on Cruz control.

            Fox News has lost its Huckabee,
            So he can run again, quite pluckily,
            Unless, of course, he’s just a stalker
            For some much darker horse like Walker.
            Doc Carson’s new, and bright, and breezy,
            And thinks it should be easy-peasy
            To sing the Democrats some dirgery—
            After all, it ain’t brain surgery.
            Some folks think that he’s too noisy,
            But Christie’s shown that in New Joisey
            He’s as happy as a clam
            If he can cause a traffic jam.
            Four years ago, who would have reckoned
            That this year we’d have Paul the second?
            And finally, speared upon the spindle,
            The most unlikely name of Jindal.

            After fighting tooth and nail,
            The strongest of them will prevail
            And be acclaimed upon the pillory
            As man enough to tackle Hillary.

P. S.:  One more would-be on the scene,
            Brings the number to thirteen—
            Lindsay Graham is just “exploring”;
            He may discover that he’s boring.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Duck Soup

In the early years of World War II, when Britain had successfully resisted German air attacks, Prime Minister Winston Churchill recalled the dire prediction of the French Vichy government that England would collapse under the German assault, just as France had done: When I warned them that Britain would fight on alone whatever they did, their generals told their Prime Minister, 'In three weeks England will have her neck wrung like a chicken.' Some chicken! Some neck!"

There have been similarly dire predictions—citing a different hapless bird—about the final two years of Barack Obama’s presidency: that he would be a “lame duck,” unable to accomplish anything. In view of his whirlwind of actions—restoring Cuban relations, issuing executive orders on immigration, agreeing on a climate change plan with China, making progress on a nuclear pact with Iran, securing approval of key appointments, steadily improving the economy—one can only echo Churchill by saying, “Some lameness!  Some duck!”

The phrase “lame duck” was coined in the 18th century at the London Stock Exchange, referring to a stockbroker who defaulted on his debts. The allusion is to an injured duck, unable to keep up with its flock, and thus becoming a target for predators. In 1861 the British historian and politician Horace Walpole used the term in a letter to Sir Horace Mann. Thomas Love Peacock wrote that a “lame duck is a man who cannot pay his differences, and is said to waddle off.”

“Lame duck” became a political term in the 19th century, used to refer to a public official serving out a term after losing an election (or becoming ineligible for re-election). The term is used in the official record of the U. S. Congress in 1863, when “lame ducks” was used to refer to “broken down politicians.” A newspaper article in 1878 recounted Abraham Lincoln’s earlier reference to a “senator or representative out of business” as a “lame duck” who “has to be provided for.”

Before the 20th Amendment to the U. S. Constitution, he President and members of Congress continued to serve until March 4 of the year following the November elections, even if they had been defeated. The Amendment changed this to January 2 or 3, shortening the “lame duck” period.

When it comes to fowl, the Bard of Buffao Bayou prefers goose, hoping that someday it will lay him a golden egg. 

            When folks said Obama was just a lame duck,
            And predicted two years of his passing the buck,
                        McConnell and Boehner
                        Could not have been plainer
            In hoping the POTUS was bogged down and stuck.

            But Obama then showed he had plenty of pluck,
            And said, “The Republicans’ principles suck—
                        If executive orders
                        Overstep borders,
            Too bad—but you fellas are just out of luck.”

Monday, January 12, 2015

Love, Honor, and Oh, Bae!

 The Oxford English Dictionary has chosen vape as its “word of the year” for 2014, edging out bae for top honors. The meaning of vape—to use one of the new smokeless electronic cigarettes that produces a steam-like vapor—is fairly straightforward.  But what in the heck does bae mean, and why?

According to Time Magazine, bae, pronounced just like the word bay, began as a term of endearment, usually applied to one’s boyfriend or girlfriend. It first turned up in rap songs around 2005.

It took on a wider meaning for anything generally good or cool. You can even say “This sandwich is so bae” or “My new Calvin Klein underwear is really bae,” and people of a certain generation will probably know what you mean.

The origin of bae, like that of all good slang words, is debatable. Some say it’s an acronym meaning “Before Anyone Else.” Another theory says it’s simply a shortened form of baby or babe, the latter which would account for the peculiar juxtaposition of a and e.

The Bard of Buffalo Bayou is thinking of changing his sobriquet to The Bae of Buffalo Bayou. What do you think?

            It’s too bad folks have learned to vape,
            It’s now in their vocabulary.
            I guess there’s no way to escape
            The Oxford English Dictionary.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Bulls vs. Bears

Stocks and bonds ended 2014 in a bull market, and most investors hope the bears will stay away. A bear market is one in which prices are going down, as opposed to a bull market in which values are rising.

These designations for pessimism and optimism about the market outlook originated in the 18th century, but the exact origins are debatable. The bear as a symbol of pessimism can be traced to 1709 in a shortening of “bearskin jobber,” a term for a merchant who sells bearskins before the bear is caught and hopes that the price will go down by the time he provides the goods. From about 1720, the term was paired with bull, indicating one who believed that prices would go up. Some speculate that bull was adopted as an opposite to bear because of the use of those two animals in the sports of bear-baiting and bull-baiting.

Others trace the bull and bear to the London Stock Exchange during the Crimean War in the 1850s. Britain was typified in political cartoons as “John Bull” against its Russian adversary, usually depicted as a bear. Even though John Bull is not an animal at all, but a stout country squire, and the lion is the customary English animal, the bull-bear symbols were picked up by London stock traders for positive and negative positions.
It’s also suggested that the bull-bear symbolism stems from the fighting styles of the two animals that parallel movements on the stock market: when attacking a bull thrusts his horns up in the air, while a bear strikes downward. Thus if the price of stocks moves upward, it’s a bull market, and if they’re going down, it’s a bear market.
Finally, some say the symbols simply reflect the personality of the two animals: bulls charge ahead and bears move cautiously.
Wherever the symbolism originated, it was popularized in the 1860s by cartoonist Thomas Nast in Harper’s Weekly. In 1879 William Holbrook Beard painted a notable work called “The Bulls and Bears in the Market,” an image of the two animals fighting each other in front of the New York Stock Exchange.  And in 1883 a board game called “Bulls and Bears: the Great Wall Street Game” became popular.
The Bard of Buffalo Bayou, who is so full of bull that people cannot bear him, unfortunately remains undeterred by his defects. 

            The Russian symbol is the Bear,
            The Brits’, the Lion most regal,
            And matched against this awesome pair,
            Americans have their Eagle.

            But by that Eagle, I’m appalled:
            He’s not so very brainy,
            He’s predatory, mean, and bald—
            Reminds me of Dick Cheney.