Monday, June 25, 2012

... Some are more equal than others ....

Eric Arthur Blair was born on this day in 1903, in the Indian village of Motihari near the Nepalese border. His British father was an agent in the Opium Department of the Indian Civil Service. The family returned to England in 1907 so that young Eric could struggle and fail out of school. By 1921 he had returned to the subcontinent and joined the police in Burma. He spent five years with the Burmese police before returning to England to quit and struggle. He stayed in England for a year, then went to France to be poor.

Finally he returned to England and wrote a book about being poor in Paris but no one wanted to publish it. He told his mother to burn the book (she did not), then wrote a new one about being a policeman in Burma. It too was rejected by several publishers. Meanwhile, however, his mother had been sneaking around with the book she hadn't burned and had found a publisher for her son.

Upon submitting the final manuscript to the publisher, Blair decided that a book about being poor in Paris written by a middle-class servant of the British Empire might not look good, so he decided to write under a pen-name. The name he chose was George Orwell.

Later he wrote a book about the poor voting habits of farm animals and another one about a future involving apple computer that sucked (he later acknowledged that it would have been a cheerier book if he hadn't been dying of tuberculosis).

Finally he became a Famous Author and even a Great Writer, but by then he was dead, whatever his name was.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Happy Bloomsday!

June 16, 1904 -
If you notice English majors greeting one another joyously saying, "Yes - yes - yes!" They'll titter. It will all be terrific fun for them. And here's the reason why -

Today is the date on which all the events depicted in James Joyce's famous novel Ulysses takes place, even though the book itself was published in 1922 and therefore cannot celebrate a real centennial until my daughters have graduated college. There is probably also a lot of excitement in all sorts of intellectual circles.

And now, you can truly impress your friends by telling them the plot -

Leopold Bloom, the main character of Ulysses, does not have much work to do, so he spends most of his day wandering around Dublin doing some errands. He leaves his house on Eccles Street, walks south across the River Liffey, picks up a letter, buys a bar of soap, and goes to the funeral of a man he didn't know very well.

In the afternoon, he has a cheese sandwich, he feeds the gulls in the river, helps a blind man cross the street, and visits a couple of pubs. He thinks about his job, his wife, his daughter, his stillborn son. He muses about life and death and reincarnation. He knows that his wife is going to cheat on him that afternoon at his house.

In the evening, he wanders around the red light district of Dublin and meets up with a young writer named Stephen Dedalus, who is drunk. Leopold Bloom takes him home with him and offers to let him spend the night. And they stand outside, looking at the stars for a while. And then Bloom goes inside and climbs into bed with his wife.

They'll feel smart and proud and better than the rest of us (and you again can feel morally superior for knowing it), and now you know why.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

... the beauty that still remains.

June 12, 1942 -
For her 13th birthday on this date, a young girl living in the Netherlands received a book which she had pointed out to her father in a shop window a few days earlier. Although it was an autograph book, bound with red-and-white plaid cloth and with a small lock on the front, Anne had already decided she would use it as a diary. She began writing in it almost immediately, describing herself, her family and friends, her school life, boys she flirted with and the places she liked to visit in her neighborhood. While these early entries demonstrate that, in many ways, her life was that of a typical schoolgirl, she also refers to changes that had taken place since the German occupation. Some references are seemingly casual and not emphasized. However, in some entries she provides more detail of the oppression that was steadily increasing. For instance, she wrote about the yellow star which all Jews were forced to wear in public, and she listed some of the restrictions and persecutions that had encroached into the lives of Amsterdam's Jewish population.

The diary, which was given to Anne Frank, chronicled her life from June 12, 1942 until August 1, 1944. It was published as The Diary of a Young Girl and eventually translated from its original Dutch into many languages and became one of the world's most widely read books.

There have also been several films, television, theatrical productions, and even an opera based on the diary. Described as the work of a mature and insightful mind, it provides an intimate examination of daily life under Nazi occupation and in hiding; through her writing, Frank has become one of the most renowned and discussed of Holocaust victims.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Don't let it end like this. Tell them I said something.

Doroteo Arango was born to a family of share-cropping pheasants in Durango, Mexico, on June 5, 1878. One day when he was sixteen he came back from work in the pheasant fields to find that his sister had been raped by the owner of the hacienda, Don Agustin Negrete. Doreteo killed Don Agustin and fled into the hills.

In the hills he met and joined forces with a gang of cattle wrestlers. Doroteo was a good wrestler, a natural. He was sure he had found his career.

The leader of his new gang was a man named Francisco "Pancho" Villa. Pancho was passionate about cattle wrestling. He taught young Doroteo everything he knew. One day the gang was ambushed by a Mexican possum and Pancho was killed in the skirmish. Young Doroteo changed his own name to Francisco "Pancho" Villa and became the gang's new leader.

The new and improved Pancho gradually diversified the operations of his gang. They were still some of Mexico's most-feared cattle wrestlers, but they also branched out into banditry, railroad contracting, and relationship counseling.

When the Mexican Revolution broke out in 1910, Pancho was recruited by the leader of the revolution. He was made a general and put in charge of conducting the war in northern Mexico. Everyone loved him except for the people he killed, who had mixed feelings, and the cattle, who welcomed the respite from wrestling but still hated their nemesis.

One day in 1916 a shipment of arms that Pancho had ordered from an American merchant didn't arrive. In retaliation Pancho raided the town of Columbus, New Mexico. During the raid he seized many American arms and a fair number of legs. This irritated the Americans, who preferred to minimize the distance between their limbs and their bodies, so General Pershing was sent to chase Pancho into Mexico.

Pershing chased Pancho throughout the Chihuahuas. It was a difficult chase, which comes as no surprise to anyone who's ever had to make their way through a herd of Chihuahuas, and consequently Pershing never found Villa. Eventually had to issue the telegraph, "Villa is everywhere, but Villa is nowhere," which made no sense and is therefore famous.

The war ended in 1920 and three years later Villa was killed by unknown assassins while driving through Parral. His death marked the end of the golden age of cattle wrestling.

Unfortunately, as previously discussing in these pages, Dubya's grandpappy got involved in a little Mexican adventure concerning the skull of Geronimo and not the death mask of Pancho Villa.

Sorry for any confusion

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Dieu et mon Droit

There may always be an England even if they've lost their empire and world status because they still have had the same Queen for 60 years.

Queen Victoria was the last and to date the only other British Monarch to celebrate a Diamond Jubilee. The Queen, who was aged 85 on anniversary of her Accession to the Throne on February 6, 2012, is the oldest monarch to celebrate a Diamond Jubilee. Queen Victoria was 77 when she celebrated hers in 1897.

There have been only three Diamond Jubilees of Heads of State celebrated throughout the world during The Queen’s reign. King Bhumibol Adulyadej of Thailand celebrated 60 years on the throne in 2006; the former Sultan of Johor (now a part of Malaysia) celebrated his in 1955; and the late Emperor Hirohito of Japan celebrated his in 1986.

Prime Ministers of the United Kingdom who served QEII

Sir Winston Churchill     1952–1955
Sir Anthony Eden             1955–1957
Harold Macmillan             1957–1963
Sir Alec Douglas-Home    1963–1964    
Harold Wilson                  1964–1970
Edward Heath                  1970–1974
Harold Wilson                  1974–1976
James Callaghan             1976–1979
Margaret Thatcher         1979–1990
John Major                      1990–1997
Tony Blair **                   1997–2007
Gordon Brown                 2007–2010
David Cameron  ***         current

*  Incredibly Churchill had the distinction of being the only MP to be elected under both Queen Victoria and Queen Elizabeth II.
**  Tony Blair was the first Prime Minister to have been born during The Queen's reign. He was born in early May, 1953 - a month before the Coronation.
*** David Cameron was born in 1966; Prince Andrew, the Queen's third child was already 6 years old at the time.

Presidents of the United States during the reign of Queen Elizabeth II

(I believe he was able to keep it in his pants)

Harry S. Truman                     - 1953
Dwight D. Eisenhower    1953 - 1961
John F Kennedy             1961 - 1963
Lyndon B. Johnson         1963 - 1969
Richard Nixon                1969 - 1974
Gerald Ford                   1974 - 1977
James E. Carter              1977 - 1981
Ronald Reagan               1981 - 1989
George H. W. Bush        1989 - 1993
William Jefferson Clinton 1993 - 2001
George W. Bush             2001 - 2009
Barack Obama.jpg       current

Presidents of France during the reign of Queen Elizabeth II

Vincent Auriol                          - 1954
René Coty                       1954 - 1959
Charles de Gaulle            1959 - 1969
Alain Poher (interim)       1969 - 1969
Georges Pompidou         1969 - 1974
Alain Poher (interim)      1974 - 1974
Valéry Giscard d'Estaing  1974 - 1981
François Mitterrand         1981 - 1995
Jacques Chirac                1995 - 2007
Nicolas Sarkozy              2007 - 2012
François Hollande           current

Chancellors of Germany* (the good one, not the communist one, shhh, don't mention WW II) during the reign of Queen Elizabeth II

Konrad Adenauer                  - 1963  
Ludwig Erhard              1963 - 1966
Kurt Georg Kiesinger    1966 - 1969
Willy Brandt                  1969 - 1974
Walter Scheel (interim) 1974 - 1974
Helmut Schmidt            1974 - 1982
Helmut Kohl                1982 - 1998
Gerhard Schröder       1998 - 2005
Angela Merkel             current

Popes during the reign of Queen Elizabeth II

Pius XII                      - 1958  (shhh, don't mention WW II)   
John XXIII        1958 - 1963
Paul VI               1963 - 1978
John Paul I         1978 - 1978  (shhh, don't mention Godfather III)
John Paul II        1978 - 2005
Benedykt XVI     current           (shhh, don't mention WW II)

The Queen's reign is longer than those of her four immediate predecessors combined (Edward VII, George V, Edward VIII and George VI). She is the third longest reigning British or English monarch, the second-longest-serving current monarch of a sovereign state (after King Bhumibol of Thailand), and the oldest reigning British monarch.

Friday, June 1, 2012

I'd love to turn you on

June 1, 1967 -
It was 45 years ago today, Sgt. Pepper taught the band to play. The Beatles officially released their new album on this date.

The album is a strange mix of songs about drug use, contrasting personae of the songwriters, heroin injection, teenage runaways, circuses (yeah right, more drug use), deep introspection, aging, amorous traffic enforcement agents and the mundane things in life, among other things.

Are you brave enough to watch George Burns singing Fixing a Hole.