Tuesday, February 26, 2008

A Leap of Faith

I remarked to family and friends the other day that I was miffed the month of February is being extended by a day.

It's that Leap Year thing again.

I've never been a big fan of February. In my mind, it's a bleak period of time between the joy of the holidays and the promise of Spring.

Oh, sure, we celebrate the birthdays of Lincoln and Washington. Without them, we might be whistling "Dixie" or singing "God Save the Queen."

But it's also the month that gave us Alice Cooper, Zsa Zsa Gabor and Gary Coleman.

We celebrate Mardi Gras and Groundhog Day. It's also Canned Food Month and Creative Romance Month (and includes International Flirting Week).

It was the month Pluto was discovered and Marx and Engels published the "Communist Manifesto." Both turned out to be abysmal failures.

It was about this time in my ruminations that my wife, in a tone that could be generously described as icy, reminded me that it was also when we celebrate Valentine's Day and the birth of our youngest daughter.

Of course, I stammered, it goes without saying.

An African-American friend pointed out it was Black History Month. Naturally, they gave us the shortest month of the year, he added.

All of which encouraged me to retreat to Leap Year as a safe topic for discussion.

Here's simple rule of thumb to determine when we have Leap Year.

Every year that is divisible by four is a leap year; of those years, if it can be divided by 100, it is not a leap year, unless the year is divisible by 400. Then it is a leap year.

OK, so it's not so simple. Rector's Rule: Open the calendar to February and see if there's an extra day listed.

We need to do this so we can keep our calendar in alignment with the earth's revolutions around the sun.

There's a lot more astronomical data available but if you're really that interested, call Caltech.

In the English speaking world, it is a tradition that women may propose marriage only on leap years, according to Internet research. While it has been argued that the tradition was initiated by Saint Patrick or Brigid of Kildare in 5th century Ireland, there is little to substantiate this version of history.

Supposedly, a 1288 law by Queen Margaret of Scotland required that fines be levied if a marriage proposal was refused by the man; compensation ranged from a kiss to a silk gown to a 100 pound fine.

That same Internet research indicated that Queen Margaret was age 5 and living in Norway at the time but, what the heck, it makes a good story.

It was also said that if the woman who did the asking failed to wear a scarlet flanel petticoat or if a corner of said petticoat was not partly visible under her dress, the man who declined would be spared the bad luck that came with his cold shoulder.

American culture, as is its custom, took these traditions and ran roughshod with them.

It was turned into Sadie Hawkins day, named after a character in Al Capp's Li'l Abner comic strip. On this day, spinsters in Dogpatch chased the single men in town and if the woman caught a man and dragged him back to the starting line by sundown, he had to marry her.

These days, women chase men 365 days a year thanks to Internet dating services.

There's nothing unique about this. For example, Hillary Clinton is chasing Barack Obama all over the United States. And sundown is coming fast.

In a totally unrelated development, Republicans in Sacramento has historically derided "nanny government," one that excessively attempts to regulate peoples' lives.

Imagine my surprise when I learned that a Republican lawmaker from the Central Valley has introduced legislation that would allow big government to reach into your car and make it illegal for motorists to keep pets on their laps.

"If you have an animal that gets in your face or gets tangled up in your steering wheel while you're driving, you can't properly control (the car),' said Assemblyman Bill Maze, R-Visalia, who introduced the bill.

Assembly Bill 2233 does not say how drivers would keep pets -- defined in the bill as "live animals" -- in their place. Maze suggested using a cage or having another passenger hold them.

The irony is that Maze voted against the bill that bans the use of hand-held cell phones in cars that goes into effect this summer, according to the Fresno Bee. He said the difference between that bill and his bill is that you can turn off a cell phone, but not a dog or cat.

Unless you had a Great Dane sitting on your lap, I'm not sure how this particular law would enforced.

But I'm sure Maze will be ironing out the details at the same time he's dealing with the state budget's $16 billion budget shortfall.

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