Running With Scissors

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Scissors Banner by Wotchit

The annual running of the bulls in Pamplona, Spain probably would have puzzled our hunter-gatherer ancestors. A charging animal was a clue that Mr Hunter-Gatherer had just slipped a notch or two on the ol' food chain and that he'd better run like a savage if he didn't want to become the late, lamented Mr Hunter-Gatherer, RIP1. Back then running for your life wasn't anybody's idea of fun, although it did put a certain spring in your step.

The running of the bulls is part of the Fiesta de San Fermin (Festival of Saint Fermin), which is held this time each year in honour of Pamplona's first bishop. Which leads me to wonder: who the heck is Saint Fermin, and would he be flattered by something involving a bunch of inebriated people and panicky, ticked-off animals2? Not a whole lot is known about him. Born in Pamplona, Saint Fermin spread Christianity in what is now France and Spain. He was tortured and beheaded around 303 AD by order of the Emperor Diocletian, who was trying to stamp out Christianity in the Roman Empire. Saint Fermin doesn't appear to have had much to do with bulls, although he may have eaten one or two. He also doesn't sound like he was much of a party animal, and he'd probably be spinning in his grave at being honoured by a week-long bash if he could get himself
together, so to speak. (Relics, don't you know.)


The only bulls I'm familiar with are the ones that go tearing around on Wall Street. Which leads to another question: just where did the terms 'bull market' and 'bear market' originate? As with a lot of expressions, we can't be certain. Apparently the terms first appeared in print in a book titled Every Man His Own Broker, or, A Guide to
Exchange Alley
by Thomas Mortimer, published in the late 1700s. Exchange Alley was the 18th Century London equivalent of today's Wall Street in New York.

Nowadays a bull market is one in which stock prices are rising, and a bull is someone who believes that stocks will gain in value. A bear market is one with falling stock prices, and a bear believes stocks will lose value. Back in the day, though, 'bull' and 'bear' had much more specific meanings. A bull was someone who bought stock 'on margin' - that is, he borrowed money to buy shares. This is a smart
thing to do when stock prices rise; the price goes up, you sell the stock and repay the loan with money left over. Bears, on the other hand, engage in something called 'short selling'. This is selling shares that you don't actually own3. If the price of the stock falls and someone buys the shares, you then purchase the shares to give to the buyer - spending less money than you received when you initially 'sold' them - and again you make a profit. Mr Mortimer believed that he could distinguish bulls from bears just by looking at them:

The Bear is easily distinguished from the Bull, who is sulky and heavy, and sits in some corner with a melancholy posture: whereas the Bear, with meager, haggard looks, and a voracious fierceness in his countenance, is continually on the watch, seizes on all who enter the Alley, and by his terrific weapons of groundless fears - and false rumours - frightens all around him out of property he wants to buy; and is as much a monster in nature, as his brother brute in the woods.

The trick to making money is guessing correctly which way the market is moving, which isn't as easy as some think. Pity the poor bear who shorted some stock, only to have the price rise and be forced to buy the shares for more money than he received when he initially shorted
them.4 As in Pamplona, when the bulls are running, some folks get trampled.

Food for Thought

Speaking of getting all ground up, the Great American Hamburger is 100 years old this year, at least according to the Texas Beef Council, which may not be totally impartial on the issue.

According to said Council, the modern hamburger was invented by Fletcher 'Old Dave' Davis of Athens, Texas. Old Dave's hamburger was made with fried ground beef, thick toasted bread, ground mustard, and a slice of onion. The rest of the world heard about the hamburger, so they say, when a reporter from New York wrote about Old Dave selling
his sandwiches at the 1904 World's Fair in St. Louis.

Not everyone agrees with this. A number of other towns in the US claim to be the birthplace of the hamburger. And ground meat isn't a modern invention by a long shot. Mongolian and Tartar horsemen, who ate their steaks raw, tenderised the meat by placing it under the saddles of their horses before heading out for a spot of warfare or raiding. Yum-my. Most likely the hamburger was brought to America by German immigrants. According to a cookbook published in 1891, a ground beef patty was known as 'Hamburger steak', after the city of Hamburg, and when served between slices of bread or in a roll, it became a 'Hamburger sandwich'.

I like mine with lettuce and tomato,

Heinz 57 and French-fried potatoes,

Big kosher pickle and a cold draft beer -

Well good God Almighty, which way do I steer?

-- Jimmy Buffet, 'Cheeseburger in Paradise'

Not content to leave well enough alone, Americans experimented with the hamburger, adding different condiments and varieties of bread to the sandwich. An enterprising soul hit on the idea of adding a slice of cheese, and the cheeseburger was born. The trademark for the name 'cheeseburger' was awarded in 1935 to Louis Ballast of the Humpty Dumpty Drive-In, in Denver, Colorado. And thanks to various fast food chains, this quintessential American food is now available almost everywhere on the planet.5

So the hamburger may or may not be 100 years old this year, but it's worth celebrating in any case. And that's no bull.

Running With Scissors


08.07.04 Front Page

Back Issue Page

1Rest In
2Maybe it's inebriated animals and panicky people.3Believe it or not, this is perfectly legal. Just don't try it on e-Bay.4This is known as 'covering your shorts', and no, I'm not making that up.5I'm embarrassed to admit that I actually go to McDonald's occasionally when I'm Europe. My American
taste buds just can't handle a steady diet of good food, so I have to give them a break.6
6Years ago, McDonald's had a jingle that went 'You deserve a break today'. I'm sure this wasn't what they had in mind. smiley - winkeye

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