Friday, January 31, 2014

Happy birthday, composer Franz Schubert

It is the birthday of Austrian compositor Franz Schubert (1797), who wrote more than 600 symphonies, operas, songs, chamber music, and piano solos, though he lived to be only 31 years old. Here is a wonderful collection called The Best of Schubert. It is a little over two hours long. We let it play and continued with work. Very enjoyable. Be aware, however, there are several commercials throughout. Oh, well, still enjoyable.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Happy birthday, organizer Saul Alinsky

It is the birthday of political organizer Saul Alinsky (1909), whose book Rules for Radicals (1971) served as a guide for organizing low-income communities and empowering them to seek change for their economic and political gain. Alinsky first worked with labor organizations, then with black communities around the country.

 In his book, he laid out 13 rules designed for the have-nots to take power from the haves. The rules:

1. “Power is not only what you have, but what the enemy thinks you have."
2. “Never go outside the expertise of your people.”
3.“Whenever possible, go outside the expertise of the enemy.”
4. “Make the enemy live up to its own book of rules.”
5. “Ridicule is man’s most potent weapon.”
6. “A good tactic is one your people enjoy.”
7. “A tactic that drags on too long becomes a drag.”
8. “Keep the pressure on. Never let up.”
9. “The threat is usually more terrifying than the thing itself.”
10. The major premise for tactics is the development of operations that will maintain a constant pressure upon the opposition."
11. “If you push a negative hard enough, it will push through and become a positive.”
12. “The price of a successful attack is a constructive alternative.”
13. “Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it.”

Though his initial efforts were somewhat left-leaning politically, he is said to have influenced activists on both the left and right.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Happy birthday, pamphleteer Thomas Paine

It is the birthday of American activist Thomas Paine (1737), whose pamphlet Common Sense (1776) inspired American colonists to take up arms against Great Britain. Scholars say it became the first American bestseller. As a percentage of population, more people had read Common Sense than watch the Super Bowl today. Paine also wrote The American Crisis (1776), which begins "These are the times that try men's souls: the summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country …" George Washington had it read to his soldiers. While living in England, Paine wrote The Rights of Man (1791), a defense of the French Revolution. That got him kicked out of England. Later, while imprisoned in France, he wrote The Age of Reason (1794), a treatise on theism and criticism of the church. When he returned to America, he discovered that his religious views had ruined his reputation. He died at age 72, abandoned by his friends and ridiculed by the public.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Happy birthday, typographer John Baskerville

It is the birthday of English printer John Baskerville (1706), who is best remembered for his enduring typeface, which is named for him. Scholars say Baskerville was an attempt to improve on the old-style typefaces of William Caslon, and represents a transition between them and more modern fonts, such as Bodoni and Didot. It is marked by more thick and thin strokes, and a refined simplicity. (Note the graceful swash of the Q). Baskerville’s first published book was a collection of works by the Roman poet Virgil in 1757. The following year Baskerville became printer of Cambridge University Press. He printed more than 50 classics in his lifetime, including his best known work, a folio Bible (1763). Benjamin Franklin was a huge fan and brought the typeface to America, where it was used to print many early government documents. Baskerville (the typeface) fell out of favor in printing circles for awhile but was revived in 1917. A related font, Mrs Eaves, was produced in 1996, and is named for Baskerville’s wife.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Happy birthday, Virginia Woolf

It is the birthday of English writer Virginia Woolf (1882), who is remembered for her novels Mrs. Dalloway (1925), To the Lighthouse (1927), and Orlando (1928), and her book-length essay A Room of One’s Own (1929). She was a leader in the Bloomsbury Group, influential writers, artists, philosophers, which held sway in the early 20th century. In this short recording of the author from a BBC program in 1937, she expounds on the craft of writing. Delightful.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Lt. Slemmer defended Florida's Fort Pickens

It is the birthday of Adam J. Slemmer (1828), who is best known in Florida history for defending Fort Pickens at the beginning of the Civil War. Slemmer was a lieutenant left in charge of a small contingent of troops at Fort Barrancas at Pensacola Harbor while his commanding officer was on vacation. When Florida seceded and it appeared that the Pensacola Navy Yard was going to be surrendered to the Confederates, Slemmer moved his troops across the bay to the vacant Fort Pickens on Santa Rosa Island, a position he considered more defensible if shooting broke out. The rest of Pensacola was occupied by Southern troops but Fort Pickens remained under Union control throughout the war. Slemmer went on to become a brigadier general and died at age 40 while in command of Fort Laramie in Wyoming.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Happy birthday, artist Édouard Manet

It is the birthday of French painter Édouard Manet (1832), who caused a big stir in French society when he painted The Luncheon on the Grass (1863), showing one lady not wearing anything and another lady not wearing very much with two gentlemen who seem decidedly overdressed for the picnic. Critics sniped not only at the subject matter but also about the fact that he hadn’t seemed to spend much time painting it. It was so sketchy, they said, it seemed as if you didn’t actually see the scene as get an impression of it. Supporters said that was the whole point – the impression. Thus, the painting came to be one of the works that represents the beginning of the transition from Realism to Impressionism.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Happy birthday, film director D.W. Griffith

It is the birthday of famed film director D.W. Griffith (1875), who is considered one of the most important figures in cinema. He is credited with pioneering film techniques such as extreme camera angles, lighting and crosscut editing, He was among the first to recognize film as a medium for story telling. Among his best known films are The Birth of a Nation (1915), Intolerance (1916). Broken Blossoms (1919), and Way Down East (1920). The last two starred actress Lillian Gish. Griffith joined Douglas Fairbanks, Charlie Chaplin, and Mary Pickford to create a film company, United Artists.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Happy birthday, General Stonewall Jackson

It is the birthday of Confederate General Stonewall Jackson (1824), who is remembered as one of the most talented tactical commanders in U.S. history for his Civil War victories at Chancellorsville, First Battle of Bull Run, Second Battle of Bull Run, Antietam, and Fredericksburg. He was wounded by friendly fire at Chancellorsville and his arm had to be amputated. He died from pneumonia eight days later. Researchers recently concluded that a full moon silhouetted Jackson on the night he was killed and he was mistaken for an enemy soldier.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Happy birthday, Lead Belly Ledbetter

It is the birthday of blues legend Huddie William (Lead Belly) Ledbetter (1888), the self-styled king of the 12-string guitar who also played piano, mandolin, harmonica, violin, and accordion. He influenced folksingers Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger, and generations of musicians who followed, and who covered his songs. He rose from a southern field hand to become a well known performer and recording artist. Here is Lead Belly singing one of his most enduring songs, Goodnight, Irene, which was covered by Seeger’s group, The Weavers, and sold two million records.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Happy birthday, Montesquieu

It is the birthday of French political thinker Montesquieu (1689), whose work The Spirit of the Laws (1748) and other writings greatly influenced James Madison in writing the Constitution of the United States. Montesquieu defined three types of government: monarchies, republics, and despotisms. He also defined two types of governmental power: the sovereign and the administrative. In the administrative, he saw three branches, the executive, the legislative, and the judicial, none of which should hold more power than the other. His Persian Letters (1712) poked fun at French society in a series of imaginary letters to a Persian visitor to Paris. Montesquieu also wrote two novels, The Temple of Gnidos (1725) and Arsace and Isménie (1742).

Friday, January 17, 2014

Happy birthday, Benjamin Franklin

It is the birthday of Founding Father Benjamin Franklin (1706), who is remembered for far more than having his picture on the $100 bill. He was a writer and publisher, inventor, and statesman. Biographer Walter Isaacson wrote that Franklin was "the most accomplished American of his age and the most influential in inventing the type of society America would become." He first published, with partners, the Pennsylvania Chronicle, then later, independently, Poor Richard’s Almanack and The Pennsylvania Gazette. Franklin experimented with electricity and invented the lightning rod. He also invented a carriage odometer, a stove that heated a room better than a fireplace, and bifocals. He was designated the Pennsylvania delegate to the Continental Congress and helped fashion the Declaration of Independence. He served as an advocate for the colonies in England before the Revolution, and later, as American ambassador to France. His image first appeared on the $100 Federal Reserve Note in 1914.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Dictator Batista ran Cuba until 1959

It is the birthday of Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista (1901), who was first elected president of the island nation in 1940, but who had run the government behind the scenes since a coup in 1933. After serving as president for four years and instituting progressive reforms, Batista moved to the United States, where he divided his time between the Waldorf-Astoria in New York City and a home in Daytona Beach.

In 1952, Batista returned to Cuba to run for president again but when it became clear he wasn’t going to win, he staged a military coup and seized power. Batista made deals with Mafia figures Lucky Luciano and Meyer Lansky, allowing them to run gambling, prostitution, and drug operations in exchange for kickbacks. He aligned himself with wealthy landowners and U.S. corporations that had made huge investments in Cuba. He censored the media, and used violence, and public executions to put down any protests.

Fidel Castro and Che Guevara led a rebellion that brought Castro to power in 1959. Batista fled to the Dominican Republic (run by fellow dictator Rafael Trujillo), and eventually settled in Portugal, living off the millions in his Swiss bank accounts that he had siphoned off during his years in power. 

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Marie LaFarge was convicted of murder

It is the birthday of murderess Marie LaFarge (1816), whose 1840 trial for poisoning her husband with arsenic became a cause célébre throughout France, with the public deeply divided over her innocence or guilt. She was the first person convicted by direct forensic evidence, and the case was one of the first followed closely by the public with daily newspaper reports. The trial was a spectacle attended by people from all over France. It included all the twists and turns of a good whodunit, including a celebrated expert witness and setbacks for both the prosecution and the defense. Marie LaFarge wrote her Mémoires (1841) while in prison. The novel The Lady and the Arsenic (1937) was based on the case as was the French film L’Affaire Lafarge (1938).

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Arnold betrayed American Revolution

It is the birthday of traitor General Benedict Arnold (1741), whose plot to surrender West Point to the British during the American Revolutionary War earned him the enmity of the fledgling nation. In the 19th century, his name became synonymous with traitor. Scholars say he was embittered against the Americans after being accused and acquitted of corruption and being passed over for promotion in the American Continental Army He was in command of fortifications at West Point, New York. His plot was revealed when American forces captured a British major who was carrying papers about Arnold’s planned defection.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Happy birthday, illustrator Anton Fischer

Man Overboard! (1909) by Anton Fischer. Inset: Fischer
It is the birthday of illustrator Anton Fischer (1992), who was an illustrator for The Saturday Evening Post for 48 years and was named artist laureate of the U.S. Coast Guard during World War II. He also illustrated for other magazines, including Everybody’s Magazine, where he illustrated a story by Jack London. Fischer illustrated London’s books as well as the Cappy Ricks series by Peter B. Kyne, the Colin Glencannon series by Guy Gilpatric, and the Tugboat Annie series by Norman Reilly Raine. Fischer was known for his maritime paintings. He was commissioned a lieutenant commander in the Coast Guard painted scenes of heroism of the Merchant Marines and Coast Guard.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Happy birthday, Alexander Hamilton

It is the birthday of United States Founding Father Alexander Hamilton (1755 or 1757), who wrote more than half of the Federalist Papers that promoted adoption of the United States Constitution and today serves as a primary source for Constitutional interpretation. Hamilton also helped set up a national banking system and helped establish the Federalist Party, the country’s first political party. He died from a gunshot wound received in an illegal duel with Vice President Aaron Burr, Jr., a political rival whom Hamilton considered untrustworthy. Charges were dropped and Burr was never tried for shooting Hamilton.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Happy birthday, George Washington Carver

We celebrate the birth of botanist and inventor George Washington Carver today, though his exact birthday is not known, nor is the year but scholars believe it was 1864 or 1965. Carver is known for researching and promoting the use of alternative crops to cotton such as sweet potatoes, soybeans, and most notably, peanuts. He is credited with finding 300 uses for peanuts, including cosmetics, shoe polish, talcum powder, and mayonnaise. Time magazine called him the “Black Leonardo” in 1941. He taught agriculture at Tuskegee Institute for 47 years. Carver wrote a memoir, My Larger Education : Being Chapters from My Experience (1911). In the 1920s he wrote a newspaper column, Professor Carver’s Advice.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Happy birthday, Richard Halliburton

Clockwise, from top left: Halliburton (left) and pilot aboard The Flying Carpet; On an elephant crossing the Alps.
It is the birthday of famed travel writer Richard Halliburton (1900), who was well known for his travel books, syndicated newspaper columns, lectures, radio appearances, and newsreels. He hired a pilot to fly him around the world in an open biplane. He rode an elephant across the Alps, explored the Mayan Well of Death, and followed Ulysses’ path in ancient Greece as told in Homer’s The Odyssey. He famously swam the length of the Panama Canal and paid the lowest canal toll in history (36 cents).

In March 1939, Halliburton set sail on the Chinese junk Sea Dragon from Hong Kong bound for San Francisco. It was last sighted by an American ocean liner in a typhoon near Midway Island. Wreckage believed to be from the Sea Dragon washed ashore in California in 1945. Halliburton and his crew were never found.

Among his books were The Royal Road to Romance (1925), The Glorious Adventure (1927), New Worlds to Conquer (1929), The Flying Carpet (1932), India Speaks with Richard Halliburton (1933), Seven League Boots (1935), Richard Halliburton’s Book of Marvels: The Occident (1937), and Richard Halliburton’s Second Book of Marvels: The Orient (1938). Other books were published after his death.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Happy birthday, General Longstreet

It is the birthday of Confederate General James Longstreet (1821), who earned great respect as a trusted officer of Robert E. Lee during the Civil War but was vilified after the war for his support of the Republican Party and campaigning for his friend Ulysses S. Grant in 1868. He distinguished himself at the Battles of First and Second Bull Run and later at Antietam and Fredericksburg. But he disagreed with Lee’s tactics and reluctantly directed Pickett’s Charge at the Battle of Gettysburg, which ended in defeat. After the war, Longstreet wrote critically of Lee, and earned enmity throughout the south. Rutherford B. Hayes appointed him ambassador to Turkey and William McKinley named him U.S. railroad commissioner.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Happy birthday, Zora Neale Hurston

The Google Doodle today honors the 123rd birthday of Florida writer Zora Neale Hurston, author of Their Eyes Were Watching God (1937), the acclaimed story of the coming of age of a young woman in Central and South Florida in the 1920s. Hurston was born in Notasulga, Alabama. Her family moved to Eatonville, near Orlando, when she was a child. She always claimed Eatonville has her hometown. Here's a link to an article in the Orlando Sentinel today about Zora Neale Hurston. Here's a link to the Google Doodle page.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Happy birthday, Sherlock Holmes

It is the birthday of the world's greatest fictional detective, Sherlock Holmes, according to the analysis of novelist and editor Christopher Morley, founder of the Baker Street Irregulars, a society of Holmes devotees. For decades, fans with perhaps too much time on their hands have analyzed the four novels and 56 short stories of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle to clarify such implied details as Holmes birthday and year (both 1854 and 1861 are offered), when he was at university (and whether it was Oxford or Cambridge), and the sleuth's mental health (some say he was manic depressive, others suggest Asperger's syndrome or severe family drama.) It's all great fun for fans of the most enduring crime solver of all time.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Happy birthday, Max Eastman

It is the birthday of writer and radical activist Max Eastman (1883), a leading patron of the Harlem Renaissance and co-founder of the radical magazine The Liberator in 1919. Earlier, as editor of the socialist magazine The Masses, Eastman stood trial twice on charges of sedition for editorials critical of U.S. participation in World War I. He was acquitted both times. The Liberator published works of John Dos Passos, Ernest Hemingway, and E.E. Cummings. Eastman visited Russia in the 1920s and later wrote critically of Joseph Stalin, though he supported Leon Trotsky. Later in life, he became fiercely anti-socialist and anti-communist, and an outspoken conservative.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Happy birthday, fantasy writer J.R.R. Tolkien

It is the birthday of English writer J.R.R. Tolkien (1892), who is best remembered for his classic fantasies The Hobbit (1937) and the three-volume sequel, The Lord of the Rings (1954-1955).  As a youngster, he made up languages with his cousins, and a hike across Switzerland when he was 18 years old inspired Bilbo Baggins' journey in The Hobbit. He served as a young officer in France during World War I. After the war, he worked for Oxford English Dictionary researching the etymology of words, and later, taught at Oxford's Pembroke College. That is where he wrote The Hobbit and the first two volumes of The Lord of the Rings, which is the second best-selling novel ever written, after Charles Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities. The Hobbit is sixth.

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