The Chinese Year of the Rat, which began over a year ago on January 25, 2020, is finally coming to an end after 384 days. Considering the year we’ve just endured, some alert readers (ARs) have likened these 18 or 19 extra days to bonus tracks on a Yoko Ono album. In any case, on February 12th it will be time to join the Chinese in celebrating the start of the Year of the Ox or Cow. There will then be three more important holidays on three consecutive days: Valentine’s Day on the 14th, Presidents Day on the 15th and Mardi Gras on the 16th. As most ARs probably know, the next day, February 17th, is Ash Wednesday, the first day of the penitential season of Lent. Somehow, after 384 days of the Year of the Rat, an additional 40 days of repentance seem to be unnecessary.
The Year of the Cow, on the other hand, could not be more timely. As most ARs surely know, the word “vaccine” is derived from vacca, the Latin word for cow. More precisely, Edward Jenner, who is sometimes called “the father of immunology,” coined the term variolae vaccinae to describe smallpox of the cow, or cowpox. It was Jenner who in 1796 discovered that inoculating humans with cowpox could provide immunity from smallpox. He published his findings in 1798 in his Inquiry into the Variolae vaccinae known as the Cow Pox. All ARs who are currently hoping to be vaccinated against COVID should pause a moment and acknowledge their indebtedness to Edward Jenner and his pioneering research 225 years ago.
While Edward Jenner was conducting research that would end up saving millions of lives, Napoleon Bonaparte was busy invading Italy and Egypt. From my COVID reading of Andrew Roberts’s biography of Napoleon it would appear that one of his main goals in these invasions was stealing art and antiquities for French museums; and books and manuscripts for French libraries. After returning from these expeditions with wagons full of looted treasure, Napoleon seized absolute power through a coup d’etat. He crowned himself emperor in 1804 and continued invading most of the nations in continental Europe. His plans to invade Great Britain were thwarted when the French fleet was soundly defeated in the Battle of Trafalgar by Lord Nelson and the Royal Navy in 1805. Despite his longstanding enmity with Britain, Napoleon arranged for all of his troops to be vaccinated against smallpox and awarded Jenner a special medal of honor in 1804.
While Napoleon was busily engaging in self-aggrandizement, on the other side of the Atlantic George Washington was establishing an important precedent for an orderly and peaceful transition of power. After serving two terms as President, he retired to Mount Vernon as a private citizen in March of 1797. Five months later, in August of 1797, he visited Georgetown College (now Georgetown University) and delivered a speech from the southern steps of what is now called the Old North Building. One hundred and sixty-nine years later I moved into a room on the third floor of this building.
I am not making this up. The dormitory in which I lived during my freshman year at Georgetown (1966-67) was the very same building from which George Washington had spoken a few months after leaving office. While it now had certain modern amenities like running water, radiator heat and electricity, the accommodations were far from luxurious, especially by the standards of student housing at most colleges and universities today. It was while l was living on the third floor of Old North that I turned 18 and was able to drink beer legally. Some of my classmates had fake IDs, which enabled them to purchase hard liquor in the District of Columbia or beer, wine and hard liquor when they went home for vacation. If any of them held onto these fake IDs, they might now be trying to use them to get COVID vaccines reserved for people age 75 and older.
One of the young men living on my floor just celebrated the 50th anniversary of his participation in one of the most historic sports upsets in the 20th century. In January of 1971, Paul Favorite, who lived almost directly across the hall from me in Old North, was playing for The Washington Generals basketball team on the night they defeated The Harlem Globetrotters in overtime in Martin, Tennessee, thus ending a 2,495 game losing streak. This was the last game the Generals ever won.
Peter Robb, who also lived across the hall from me, a few doors down from Paul, made national news more recently. Peter, the General Counsel of the National Labor Relations Board, was the first federal official to be fired by the Biden administration. At 12:23 p.m. EST on January 20th, while President Biden was still delivering his inaugural address at the Capitol, Peter received an email demanding his resignation. The email, which was sent in the first half hour of the Biden presidency, came from a minion who was presumably too unimportant to attend the inauguration. When Peter refused to resign he was promptly fired. This firing was historic because it was first time in the 74 year history of the NLRB that a General Counsel had been fired. It was an occasion even rarer than a win by the Washington Generals.
As is often said, this dismissal will allow Peter to spend more time with his family, with whom he can celebrate Chinese New Year, Valentine’s Day and Mardi Gras, but probably not Presidents Day, at least not this year.
Chairman – The Saint Louis Brewery