Thursday, June 10, 2010

June 10 - A.A. Day

Story: June 10th, 1935 is the traditional day of the founding of Alcoholics Anonymous. The story goes that “Bill W” and “Dr. Bob” were both alcoholics searching for ways to cope with their problems. Both of their real names are matters of public record, but by tradition they are called Bill and Dr. Bob, or variants of these names. Both had had partial success with medical treatments for alcoholism, and partial success with religious approaches to dealing with alcoholism. “Bill W ” had become convinced that spirituality was part of the solution, as was medicine, but that the other element he personally needed to stay sober was the caring support of other alcoholics who were trying to do the same thing, who had been there, who somewhat understood. So Bill W. searched discretely for another alcoholic to share his troubles with, and found Dr. Bob. Now, Dr. Bob was skeptical at first, but rapidly became friends with Bill W. Indeed, Bill moved into Dr. Bob and his wife’s house.

They talked about what worked and what didn’t, what helped them stay sober and what wasn’t quite right. Dr. Bob returned to drinking heavily at a medical convention, but when he got home Bill W. rode him to return to sobriety. They made plans to take their proposals for alcoholics mutual support groups on the road. On, June 10, 1935 Dr. Bob had the last drink of his life, a single beer to steady his hands for performing surgery. June 10, 1935 has become the traditional date for the founding of AA, because it was the first time the AA approach WORKED, the first time that the combination of spiritual surrender and mentorship by another recovering alcoholic was used intentionally to allow an alcoholic to remain sober the rest of his life.

Shortly, there after Bill W. and Dr. Bob began targeting other alcoholics for their planned treatments, and Dr Bob’s home became a kind of center for alcoholics, in Akron OH. The method wasn’t exactly the 12 steps at first, and indeed they thought of it largely in terms of the ideas of the Evangelical Christian Oxford Group. Before long, Bill W. moved back to New York and established a group there as well. By 1937, Bill W.’s group in New York and Dr. Bob’s group in Akron were working quite differently, and Bill W’s group was coming into increasing friction with the Oxford Group. Eventually there was a split, the Oxford group understood this as Bill W. quitting, but Bill’s wife claims they were kicked out. Nonetheless, Bill W.’s group continued, focusing solely on alcoholics rather than a mix of spiritual problems, and accepting practicing Catholics, or others whose religion wasn’t quite in line with the Oxford group. By 1939, the Akron group split with the Oxford Group as well, and both groups agonized about how to spread their method more broadly. Bill W. proposed a grand plan involving writing a book, sending out paid alcoholic missionaries, and setting up a recovery center, which went against several of the spiritual principles of the Oxford Group. The 18 alcoholics still with the Akron and New York groups took a vote, and in the end approved the writing of the book by 1 vote, but refused to fund the more elaborate plan.

Bill W was the primary writer at first, and was working to secure various sources of funding. He succeeded in getting a little funding from John D. Rockefeller Jr., but did not receive the millions he hoped for, for the recovery center and professional ex-alcoholic missionaries. Rockefeller argued that the power of Bill’s method was one man carrying the message to another man out of goodwill and having been there, and that money would ruin the spiritual power of the approach. Yes, "man," AA was all male at first. By 1939 the “Big Book” was published, it was entitled “Alcoholics Anonymous” and was over 400 pages long. Bill had expanded the initial draft of 6 steps into 12 steps, somewhat modeled on the 12 apostles. In 1939 AA had around 100 members in 3 cities, and the book did not sell well. But things did slowly pick up. AA started publishing a newsletter. In 1946, Bill W developed the “twelve traditions” to help govern individual AA meetings. By 1950 there were 100,000 AA members, and soon Narcotics Anonymous was created as the first AA spin-off group. By the 70s there were a million AA members. Today it is estimated that there are over 2 million AA members, and there are over 100,000 official AA meetings, in 150 countries.

Now, I’ve never benefited directly from AA, but I’d wager I know plenty of people who have. Part of what interests me are the personal characteristics of Bill W, and Dr. Bob. Yesterday I praised experimental charity. Both of Charles Dickens experimental charities worked only passingly well. They probably weren’t wastes of money, but neither were they heavily imitated in later years. But Dr. Bob and Bill W. struck upon a model for charity that was fairly novel at its time, and has worked extremely well and been widely imitated since. But they didn’t strike upon it all at once. The idea of group psychological counseling cropped up in several places in the 1930s, including another of my heroes Jacob Moreno. AA got it largely through the Oxford Group, a group spiritual and religious practice. Similarly the medical model of Alcoholism as mental disorder rather than moral weakness, predates AA, and the idea clearly got to Bill W via one of his earlier doctors, Dr. Silkwood. But the model, not of doctors helping alcoholics, or religious professionals helping alcoholics, but alcoholics helping each other - that was novel. Similarly, the 12 step format was a spiritual path that is reminiscent of, but isn’t exactly like, earlier Christian ideas of humbling and healing. Similarly it was more than a decade after AA’s founding that it developed the 12 traditions, the rules of anonymity, neutrality, non-professionalism, openness and so on, that explicated the model for how AA was going to work at the group level, rather than just at the personal level. The 12 traditions are a sociological innovation, at least as much as the 12 steps are a spiritual one. And Bill W., himself, disagreed with several at these at various points of the story. The alcoholics group he ran in 1935 was only open to alcoholics who were still sober and had already undertaken a serious surrender to God, rather than open to anyone at all that is trying to recover, as specified by the third tradition. Bill W. argued strenuously against traditions 7 and 8 when he was looking for financial support from John Rockefeller in 1937. AA, evolved, changing many times in its first few decades. Bill W. was amazingly willing to let it evolve. Another good example is political neutrality. Bill W. himself was quite conservative politically, but he wanted AA to stay out of politics, to be as open to all alcoholics as possible. He continued even after founding AA, to be very open to new possible spiritual or medical approaches to treating alcoholism. He participated in medical experiments with LSD, under Aldous Huxley in the 50s, and studies on niacin in the 60s. He was interested in spiritualism and parapsychology, his house had a "spook room" where he and his wife used the Ouija board and conducted seances. He believed that the spirit of a 15th century monk named Boniface helped him write the book “Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions.” Much of that was later swept under the rug, but my point is that he was very open and innovating, intellectually and spiritually.
Bill W. was undoubtedly a terribly flawed individual. He drank his way to flunking out of law school. He was a failed stock speculator in the 1920s. There is decent evidence that he cheated on his wife with 3 or 4 AA members after AA started letting in women. After he gave up alcohol, he smoked like a chimney, (starting that AA stereotype, Dr. Bob forbid smoking at the early Akron meetings …) and he died of emphysema. But he kept trying, and he was flexible in his approach. He was also supremely humble, building his success on humbling himself at the beginning, calling on others to humble themselves, seeking to structure his organization in ways that would insure continued humility, writing genuinely heartfelt praises to the value of humility that are quite unique in 20th century literature.
Dr. Bob, who took his last drink on that June 10th, was never the humble leader, or writer, or theorist that Bill W was. But he, too helped forge AA in the early days, and he was the personal sponsor of over 5000 recovering alcoholics during the last 30 years of his life, and was by all accounts an amazing sponsor.

I am grateful for all the lives saved, and improved by AA.
I am grateful for the many spin off organizations to AA.
I am grateful for the pluralistic model of recovering victims helping other recovering victims, rather than the hierarchical model of superiors descending to aid their inferiors.
I am grateful for the spiritual searchers dedicated to looking for ways to apply the spiritual to solving the problems of today.
I am grateful for flexible minds willing to try new things and adapt and experiment.
I am grateful for the humility of the 12 traditions, seeking to minimize organization lest the organization be suborned
I am grateful for skillful use of neutrality, understanding when to be open to many political positions, or religious positions, or walks of life.
I am grateful again and again for everyday heroes of self-reform.

Other Notables for me for today
The births of b. of Howlin’ Wolf(musician), Judy Garland (actor), Maurice Sendak (children’s author), Kim Deal (Musician, Pixies Breeders), Elizabeth Hurley (actor)
The martyrdom of Giacomo Matteotti, the last real opponent of Fascism in Italy. The death of Alexander the Great, Marcus Garvey (controversial racial theorist), Bernard Williams (2003, philosopher, promoter of virtue theory, I’ve used his textbooks).

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

June 9th – Charles Dickens Day

When I taught philosophy, one stunt I pulled occasionally, was to have my students write a short essay on which fictional character they admired most and why. I remember being gobsmacked by one very surprising choice, Ebenezer Scrooge. Here, the student argued, is a man that with much difficulty managed to perceive his failings, and set his heart to earnestly mending his faults. I can’t think of Dickens without remembering this essay, and as it turns out it has echoes in his own life.

Charles Dickens was one of those rare authors that combine lasting critical acclaim with stunning popularity in his own time. His novel “A Tale of Two Cities” is still the best-selling book of all-time, originally composed in English. (The Bible, Quran and works of Chairman Mao dust it, for example). He is still the best-selling all time author in English, although J. K. Rowling is getting close. Much about his life and works is well known, and well explored, but I want to meditate a little on it anyway.

His dad was thrown into debtor’s prison when Charles was young, and he was reduced to a fairly working-class life. Charles had an education in a crappy school with the occasional side jaunt to working in a shoeshine manufacturing factory. He eventually became a junior law clerk, and then a journalist, then a journal editor and novelist. His first novel brought him immediate fame, and by the age of 30, he had published 5 novels (only one of which I’d heard of), and was famous enough that during his trip to the US, they threw a ball in his honor in New York, and he visited President Tyler at the White House. He spent the whole of the rest of his life writing novels, and giving public readings of them, frequently as part of literary tours. Most of his novels were published in monthly or weekly installment in popular journals of the day, before being reprinted in whole as novels. Social reform and social commentary was a long abiding theme of his work, and once he was famous he was involved in trying to create new forms of charity that would not suffer from the problems of existing charitable institutions, such as the “Urania House” that was funded by the richest lady in England, and run largely by Dickens. On the other hand, he and he wife Catherine “separated” when he was 45 and lived with a much younger woman named Ellen Terman, whom he seems to have spent the rest of his life with. The split was bitterly painful too, some of the children sided with Charles and some with Catherine, and even Catherine’s sister Georgina took Charles side rather than hers during the split. Charles Dickens was one of the early members of “the Ghost Club,” a London based paranormal investigation club founded in 1862, which appears to be the first of its kind. He also survived a major rail crash in 1865, but managed to keep his name out of the papers. He died in 1870, at 58 after a series of strokes.

The obvious things to say about Dickens involve his social commentary. Dickens was a liberal’s liberal and wanted people to understand what life was like for the less fortunate. He was keenly interested in how people could fall through the cracks of the social system, and was always looking for ways to patch the cracks, as well as to point them out. He was a fierce opponent of poverty and of social stratification, and worked to “humanize” people who occupied various marginal positions, such as prostitutes or criminals. He tackled the legal system in one novel, and corrupt patent offices and unfettered market speculation in another. Karl Marx said of Dickens that he (and other Victorian novelists like him)
"...issued to the world more political and social truths than have been uttered by all the professional politicians, publicists and moralists put together..."

Charles Dickens is also one of the most famous Unitarians of England, well kinda. He was born and raised as an Anglican, but had little patience with Anglicanism as a young adult. When he first visited the US, in 1842, at age 30, he met and interacted with a number of Unitarians, whom he found both humorous and impressive. He makes fun of them in his novel Martin Chuzzlewit. In his own notes to himself, he writes of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s essays that they contained "much that is dreamy and fanciful," but also "much more that is true and manly, honest and bold." Back home in England, he began attending the Essex Street Unitarian Church several times, and then took a pew at the Little Portland Street Unitarian Church. According to Dickens, Tagart, his minister, had "that religion which has sympathy for men of every creed and ventures to pass judgment on none." Dickens wrote to Unitarian Harvard professor Cornelius Felton, "I have carried into effect an old idea of mine and joined the Unitarians, who would do something for human improvement if they could; and practice charity and toleration." He remained a Unitarian for around a decade, and it’s not that hard to see its influence on him. During this time, he wrote the Christmas Carol (and most of his other Christmas work), as well as several of his other novel. This is also the part of his life where he was involved in running experimental forms of charity. He also wrote a purely religious book “The Life of Our Lord” that was intended only for his children. It was read aloud in the family every Christmas, and he begged that the manuscript never be taken out of the house or given to publishers, although it was published in 1934, after the death of his last surviving son. The book begins
“My Dear Children, I am very anxious that you should know something about the History of Jesus Christ. For everybody ought to know about Him. No one ever lived who was so good, so kind, so gentle, and so sorry for all people who did wrong, or were in any way ill or miserable, as He was.”

By the 1850s, a form of Anglicanism called “Broad Church” had developed that emphasized Latitudinarianism, and what we would call religious liberalism. Dickens, returned to the Anglican Church, but remained friends with many Unitarians including his ex-minister, to his death. He accepted Darwin’s theory of Evolution, had an interest in Biblical criticism, and when the curate at his Anglican Church was replaced with one he found dull, he just stopped attending.

In many ways, Dickens is the creator of the modern version of Christmas. Historian Ronald Hutton (who I like a lot on many fronts), argues that the current state of observance of Christmas in our culture is a result of a mid-Victorian revival of the holiday spearheaded by Christmas Carol, and I agree. I’ve written elsewhere about the many subtle changes in our understanding of Christmas represented by Dickens vision, but here are a few points. Dickens imagined a family centered celebration of generosity, rather than a church-centered or community-centered celebration, and he wedded the commercial message and the religious message together as intimately as he could.

Another interesting story about Dickens involves his anti-Semitism and racism. A lifelong champion of misunderstood underdogs, it’s nonetheless possible to find evidence of racial bias against Eskimos, Indians, and Jews in Dickens corpus in various ways. But most interesting to me is his anti-Semitism. His early work Oliver Twist, has an impressively vile villain named Fagin, a Jew, who runs a gang of child pickpockets. Fagin seems to have been based on Ikey Solomon, a real criminal that Dickens interviewed while he was a reporter. Nonetheless, the portrayal of Fagin, who is frequently refered to in the novel simply as “the Jew” does not seem free from bias. In 1854, the Jewish Chronicle asked why "Jews alone should be excluded from the 'sympathizing heart' of this great author and powerful friend of the oppressed." Then in 1863, one of Dickens friends, Eliza Davis, wrote to Dickens complaining to him about his portrayal of Fagin, and arguing that he had "encouraged a vile prejudice against the despised Hebrew", and that he had done a great wrong to the Jewish people. What is interesting to me, is that he responded to the criticism. He halted the printing of the book version of Oliver Twist, and altered the wording on the sections that had not yet been sent to the typesetters. Then in his next novel he made a caricaturishly good Jewish lady, named Riah (friendship in Hebrew), and at one point gives her the line: "Men say, 'This is a bad Greek, but there are good Greeks. This is a bad Turk, but there are good Turks.' Not so with the Jews ... they take the worst of us as samples of the best ..."

I remember keenly a discussion I had with my father as an adult, when I described a black girl I had had a crush on in high school, but never worked up the guts to ask out. He said that he didn’t know how he would have reacted if I had, or if he would have been able to act honorably. I said, c’mon you’re not a racist or anything. And he said, oh yes I am. I have been all my life. It’s part of how I was brought up. But as an adult, I’ve struggled against it, and tried to hide it from you kids because I didn’t want you to grow up to be be racists too. That’s kinda how I see Dicken’s anti-Semitism. He has it, and it isn’t really that hard to see if you look. But he’s embarrassed by it, he tries to cover it up, or make up for it, when he can perceive it. He was trying to grow beyond it.

I am grateful for Christmas as a holiday of family celebrations and generosity.
I am grateful for Scrooge’s example of self-reform.
I am grateful for Dicken’s tireless work to humanize all classes of society and shed light on where social systems are failing.
I am grateful for people who fund and direct experimental charities, looking for new ways to deal with societies flaws.
I am grateful for serialized narratives as an art form, from Dickens to comic books and TV shows.
I am grateful for religious toleration, where people of different beliefs work together for mutual goals.
I am grateful for the inner urge to reform our own flaws, the secret good side of embarrassment

Other Notables for me for this day
Donald Duck’s debut, Joseph Welch stands up to Senator McCarthy during the 1950s.
birth of Johnny Depp and Natalie Portman, death of Tsukiyoka Yoshitoshi (last master of Ukiyo-e)

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

The Gratitude Project - Project Story

I recently read Margaret Atwood’s novel “The Year of the Flood” which depicts a fictional environmentalist religious cult, God’s Gardeners, operating in Canada some decades into our future. I could speak the praises of this thought-provoking novel, and indeed of Atwood, but maybe another time. One of the many bizarre habits of this remarkably admirable and weird little fictional cult, is their calendar. Every day of the year for them is a saint day, holiday or feast day, but their choices are typically environmentalists or biologists, like a strange mix of early Christianity and 20th century environmentalism. For example, Saint Rachel Carson Day is named after the patron saint of all birds who was sainted for warning the world of the dangers of pesticide.

Now, I’m not really a biologist, or a novel writer, but the project of dedicating each day to some hero of the past well it niggled at me. I’ve thought about it off and on for the last several months. Eventually, I decided that I would try to decide on one person or event or organization to be grateful for each day. Part of my goal was to cultivate my own sense of gratitude, as I can be a, well, a bitter old cuss. But as I’ve actually begun to work on the project, I’ve found it also a kind of interesting way of re-telling old stories that deserve to be told again.

I’ve been working on it privately since May 26th, but haven’t shared any of my decisions or rationales with anyone other than my wife. But I think, I’m going to attempt to be a little more public about it. Here’s my goal, I’m going to try to pick some person or event, for each day of the year, that was born or died, or happened, or had some important link to the date. Someone or something that is important to me, or I’m particularly grateful for, or I think deserves to be raised up a bit. And I’m going to tell their story in my words, leaning heavily on Wikipedia as I often do. Each entry will also have a section to remind myself what I’m grateful for it. Feel free to follow my progress, or suggest other folks or stories for a day. Obviously these are my own choices, guided by my interests and tastes in philosophy, politics, art, and so on. As a flick of the hat to Atwood’s book, I’ll even call some of those I especially admire “saints,” so long as they are dead.

I'll also back date the posts to the day they are about, even if I wrote them a little early or late, or didn't post them until today.

June 8th: World Ocean Day

Stories: Since 1992 when the idea was first proposed by Canada at the “Earth Summit” at Rio De Janeiro, June 8th has been unofficially and later officially celebrated as World Ocean Day.

Here is Un Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon’s official statement from the 2009 World Ocean Day, the first officially recognized by the UN

The first observance of World Oceans Day allows us to highlight the many ways in which oceans contribute to society. It is also an opportunity to recognize the considerable challenges we face in maintaining their capacity to regulate the global climate, supply essential ecosystem services and provide sustainable livelihoods and safe recreation.

Indeed, human activities are taking a terrible toll on the world’s oceans and seas. Vulnerable marine ecosystems, such as corals, and important fisheries are being damaged by over-exploitation, illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing, destructive fishing practices, invasive alien species and marine pollution, especially from land-based sources. Increased sea temperatures, sea-level rise and ocean acidification caused by climate change pose a further threat to marine life, coastal and island communities and national economies.

Oceans are also affected by criminal activity. Piracy and armed robbery against ships threaten the lives of seafarers and the safety of international shipping, which transports 90 per cent of the world’s goods. Smuggling of illegal drugs and the trafficking of persons by sea are further examples of how criminal activities threaten lives and the peace and security of the oceans.

Several international instruments drawn up under the auspices of the United Nations address these numerous challenges. At their centre lies the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. It provides the legal framework within which all activities in the oceans and seas must be carried out, and is the basis for international cooperation at all levels. In addition to aiming at universal participation, the world must do more to implement this Convention and to uphold the rule of law on the seas and oceans.

The theme of World Oceans Day, “Our oceans, our responsibility”, emphasizes our individual and collective duty to protect the marine environment and carefully manage its resources. Safe, healthy and productive seas and oceans are integral to human well-being, economic security and sustainable development. “

I am grateful for the times I have gotten to enjoy the ocean, its beachs, sailing, snorkeling and so on though I am no coastalman myself.
I am grateful for the ecological roles played by the ocean, in the water cycle, the CO2 cycle, the moderating of climate via the oceanic conveyor belt, etc.
I am grateful for seafood, and the many material benefits provided by the sea.
I am grateful for international cooperation to try to cope with international problems, indeed, the question of how the law deals with the seas has been a powerful force towards the creation of international law since at least the 1600s.

Other Notables for me this Day
Carl Laemmle founds Universal Pictures, 1912,
Births of Joan Rivers (comedian), Scott Adams (cartoonist), Keenan Ivory Wayans (director), Nick Rhodes (musician), death of Muhammad (religious leader), Thomas Paine (patriot), Abraham Maslow (psychologist), Richard Rorty (philosopher)

Monday, June 7, 2010

June 7th – Saint Alan Turing Day

Story: When I used to teach philosophy, I called Alan Turing “the logician who saved the world twice” it is an exaggeration, but not much of one. Alan Turing was one of the great mathematical minds of the 20th century and spread his talents to philosophy, and chemistry as well. He was a homosexual, and out to himself fairly young. When his first love interest died from complications from Bovine TB, while he was a teen his faith was shattered and he became a lifelong atheist. He got a degree in math and at the ripe age of 24 published a paper pushing some of the boundaries of computability theory. He was send to Princeton to study at the Institute for Advanced Studies, under Alonzo Church, and got his Ph. D. in 1938.

Soon after WWII broke out and as it happened, Turing played a key role in the war. He became the star cryptoanalyst of British intelligence, and eventually of Allied intelligence. Straight away he invented a machine that made cracking the German Enigma cipher (which was designed to be constantly changing) easier. His mathematical work had focused on the limits of what can be done with mechanical computational devices, but in fact during the War he developed or helped develop numerous mathematical code breaking devices, several devices for secure coded transmission, and several new mathematical approaches to code breaking having nothing to do with his computational theories (Bayesian approaches, and an approach involving the principle of ex falso quadlibet). It is no exaggeration to say that the Allied cryptological superiority was a key part of why they won WWII, or that Turing personally was a key part of the Allies cryptological superiority. That was the first time he changed the world, although it was all strictly hush-hush for decades.

Turing’s own mathematical work was foundational, original and searching. He wanted to explore the theoretical limits of what a computational device can, and cannot do. He invented a type of logical computational device, which we now call a Turing machine, and proved that anything that can be computed by any device can be computed by a Turing machine too (albeit vastly less efficiently in many cases). And it turns out that, his work together with Godel, and Church’s means that there are a number of tasks that even the most powerful and sophisticated computer can never do.

Turing was intimately involved in the transition for mechanical computation devices to electronic ones. He was also intimately involved in the transition from building special purpose computational devices, to building fully general ones. Turing devised the world’s very first compiling program, and designed on paper an electronic computer that could run any program. This was the nucleus of ENIAC the world’s first Turing-complete physical computer. The closer one looks at the history of early computing, the clearer it becomes, that like with the automobile, no one person can really be considered the inventor. Thing progressed in many small stages, and many, many people and labs were part of the story. But no one can doubt that Alan Turing was central to the story, in theoretical ways, in practical hands-on ways, in finding applications and solving engineering problems, as well as in seeing what can be done. Turing’s invention of the compiler program is probably the closest thing there is to the beginning of modern computing. And by founding modern computer science he changed the world again.

And now we get to his shame and martyrdom. In 1952, one of his lovers helped an accomplice break into Turing’s house, and in the police investigation Turing admitted that he had slept with the man, which was illegal in Britain in 1952, but rarely prosecuted and rarely punished heavily. The judge in the case, was particularly upset that Turing had not enlisted and helped his country in its time of desperate need, and demanded clarification as to why. Turing begged the government for a letter, that without giving away the secrets of just how much Turing had helped in WWII, would say that Turing had been serving his country and that his government was happy with his service. They refused. Indeed, although he had been awarded the Order of the British Empire, in 1945 for his war-time services, he was forbidden to share this fact with anyone without high-security clearance. The judge publicly called Turing a coward and a reprobate and gave him the maximum sentence of 10 years in jail. Shortly after, his lawyers cut a deal to suspend the sentence in return for house arrest and an experimental “chemical castration” hormone treatment.

From 1952-54 Turing was despondent, friendless, in exile, depressed and see-sawing around emotionally and physically in response to the drugs he was on. He worked some on chemistry and mathematical biology, and indeed made several significant contributions there. On June 7th, 1954 he died of cyanide poisoning, with a half eaten apple nearby that was never tested for poison, and no note. There are many theories floated about what exactly happened. The inquest ruled that Turing had committed suicide. If so, his recent trial, public shaming, arrest, enforced experimental drug-regime, and inability to defend himself without violating national security are surely to blame. For my part, I consider him a martyr to the culture of secrecy surrounding national security since WWII. His mother argued that his poisoning was accidental, and resulted from incautious handling of the chemicals he was researching with in his lab. Some writers have speculated that he was assassinated by National Security forces of some kind or another to keep some secret, or to prevent him from inventing something else dangerous, like a new code or a new code breaker. Another theory is that he intentionally re-enacted the scene from Snow White with the poison apple.

Turing has been honored in many ways since his death. He ranked 21st in a 2002 BBC poll of the 100 most influential Britons of all time. In 1999, Time named him one of 100 most influential people of the 20th century, saying “The fact remains that everyone who taps at a keyboard, opening a spreadsheet or a word-processing program, is working on an incarnation of a Turing machine." On Sept 10, 2009 Prime Minister Gordon Brown, publicly apologized for the British Government’s failure to intercede on Turing’s behalf at his trial, and thanked him once again for his many services to his country.

I am grateful for the Turing theory of computability.
I am grateful for Turing’s proof that there are some things that computers will never be able to do.
I am grateful for Turing’s work to build functioning electronic computers, from math, to logic, to programming to engineering.
I am grateful for Turing’s philosophical speculations on artificial intelligence and the “Turing Test”
I am grateful for Turing’s work to aide the Allies in WWII
I am grateful for a symbol of gay pride in math and science
I am grateful for the kind of deep patriotism that would lead a man to keep a secret, even while it was destroying him
I am grateful for those who died in shame, while doing good, even if their secret contributions have not come to light, as Turing’s did.

Other Notable Events for the day
Gandhi performs his first act of civil disobedience against Apartheid, while he is a young lawyer in South Africa. The Supreme Court decision in Griswold vs Connecticut 1965 effectively legalizes contraception use by married couples.
Birth of Herman Wells, IU president who among other things defended Kinsey, birth of Nikki Giovanni (poet), Prince (musician), Damian Hirst (conceptual artist), Dave Navarro (musician), death of Chief Seattle, and Henry Miller (dramatist)

Sunday, June 6, 2010

June 6th – Cripple Creek Day

Story: This is the story of the 8 hour day, and one of the larger private battles in US history. In 1894 the Cripple Creek Colorado mine owners lengthened the standard work day from 8 hour shifts, to 10 hour shifts, at the same pay of 3$ a day. The miners unionized in a hurry and struck. By the end of Feb pretty much every mine in Colorado was shut down, although by Mar some had given in to the Union demands and others had succeeded in bringing in non-union workers from further away.

There were fights between striking miners and “scabs.” There was an incident were strikers ambushed 6 deputy sheriffs, leading to a fistfight and shots fired. Gov. Davis Waite, who was a Populist, called in 300 National Guard to observe the scene and keep the peace, and they did in fact find things peaceful. They went home, thinking the reports of chaos in the area had been exaggerated. The Unions and owners negotiated, but in May talks broke down.

The mine owners met with Sheriff Bowers of Colorado Springs, saying they were going to bring in hundreds of nonunion workers and asking if he could protect him. He said, nope, he was stretched too thin. So the mine owners offered to subsidize the pay of another 100 deputies, and the Sheriff began recruiting. The workers dug in, and fortified their camp on Bull Hill. The strikers began practicing military drills, and making military fortifications. May 24th, 125 deputies approached the fortified camp on Bull Hill, and the strikers used dynamite to blow a shafthouse 300 feet into the air as the deputies approached. The deputies fled with no shots fired, and the next night the mine backers agreed to finance a force of upto 1,200 additional deputies, and again recruitment began …

Gov. Waite got wind and ordered the strikers to disband their camp on Bull Hill, he ordered the deputies to stop recruiting and disband their private army of over a thousand deputies, declaring it an illegal body, and he ordered the state militia to get back to Cripple Creek ASAP. Waite met with the mine owners and the Union leader trying again to broker something, on the campus of the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs. A lynch mob attempted to catch and kill the governor and union president Calderwood, but a local judge distracted the mob, while they escaped via a back route. The negotiators tried again, and by June 4th, both parties had reached an agreement, on an 8 hour day at 3$ an hour, and no retaliations, but also an agreement not to harass any nonunion workers that chose to remain.

But by this point Sheriff Bowers had lost control of his 1,300 man army, which marched on Bull Hill cutting telegraph and telephone wires, and imprisoning reporters. Again the state militia was send in and when they arrived on June 6th fighting was already taking place. There was gunfire exchanged between the two armies. As the head of the militia and Sheriff Bowers argued about what to do next, the Deputies charged the hill but were repulsed. The militia occupied the Hill, and the strikers gave them no resistance and they ordered the deputies to stand down. The deputies then occupied the town of Cripple Creek, arresting, imprisoning, dragging people from their homes and beating or clubbing them. So the militia came into town and began arresting the Deputies. By nightfall the state militia was in control. The mine owners refused to disband their army of deputies, at first, that had not be agreed to in the negotiations, but by June 11th they began standing down. To this day it is the only time in US history that a State Militia has intervened on the striker’s side.

The strike was a huge success for the Unions, and within a few years there were 54 occupations unionized in Cripple Creek, and the Western Federation of Miners was at the peak of its power. But the WFM was tarred with the brush of violence, and its 1898 strike did not go well, and as for 1903-4, well that usually gets called the Colorado Labor Wars these days. Public support went slowly against the miners, and Gov. Waite, and the Populist movement were defeated soundly in the Nov. elections that year, and never recovered, mostly because he was seen as being pro-labor. The mine owners also hardened their stance, and readied for the next round, turning to the Thiel Detective Agency, and the Pinkerton Detective Agency for security arrangements instead of impromptu last minute army-raising. And their combination of spies, lockouts, blacklisting, and strikebreaking proved much more effective. But just this once, the Gov. and the State Militia fought to defend the strikers against the attacks of the private army financed by the owners.

I am grateful for the 8 hour work day, or what is left of it.
I am grateful that private armies are still rare in the US.
I am grateful that government occasional intervenes for the people against armies gone wild, or even against the interests of the owners.

Other Notables for the day
YMCA founded 1844, Martyrdom of James Meredith (1966 civil rights activist), Martyrdom? of Robert Kennedy, Jr. (1968, politician), deaths of Patrick Henry (patriot), Louis Lumiere (pioneer of cinema), and Karl Jung (psychoanalyst), birth of Sandra Bernhard (comedian)

Saturday, June 5, 2010

June 5th – Tank Man Day

Story: In China, the Tienanmen Square protests of 1989 are known simply as June 4th, or 6-4, in much the way that 9-11 is more than enough information to evoke plenty of reaction in Americans. They actually extended quite a bit earlier than that, the demonstrations began as early as April 15th, and began as mourning for Hu Yaobang, an upper party member who pushed for reform, and was humiliated, to some extent scapegoated, and forced to resign earlier that year. This mourning party gradually turned more radical, testing the bounds of what the government would allow. Much is still not known about the protests today, and there has been plenty of suppression of information about them by the Chinese state. But it looks as if the protests had no real leadership, or indeed unified agenda. To some it was about freedom of speech or press, to some it was about democracy, to some it was opposing nepotism, to some it was dissatisfaction with Deng Xiaoping as the head of the central committee. It began with students and intellectuals, and indeed there were general strikes at the universities on April 21-23rd, but it spread to many kinds of urban workers. By late April there were similar protests in cities all throughout China, and in Taiwan and the US. By May 13th there were hunger strikes, and Mikhail Gorbachev was scheduled to visit. The protests were pretty much well ordered, huge, and allowed to continue in hopes they’d burn out. There were 100,000 people in the square protesting peacefully pretty much every day for a month and a half. On May 19th, the Premier Li Peng, and General Secretary Zhao Ziyang spoke to the crowd, pleading with the students to end their hunger strike, famously saying “we are already old, it doesn’t matter to us anymore” in contrast the students were young, and he urged them not to sacrifice themselves so easily. They applauded but they did not disperse. The next day, martial law was declared, General Secretary Zhao Ziyang was stripped of all his positions and placed under house arrest. He was not seen publicly again for the rest of his life and died in 2005. But the military, claimed it was unable to get to Tienanmen square being blocked by throngs of protesters and still unwilling to fire first, and they gave up attempting to occupy the square on May 24th. Understand that at first, there was a lot of reporting of the event within China, and many sympathy protests, and indeed, many people traveled to the capitol to take part in the continuous protests. On May 27th, for example, Hong Kong had a huge gala concert “Democratic Songs Dedicated for China” in which many pop stars sang a free concert expressing sympathy with the protesters in Beijing, at the end of which was a huge parade attended by 1.5 million! people, one fourth of the population of Hong Kong walking peacefully through the streets chanting against the government. On May 30, the protesters erected a statue of “the Goddess of Democracy” carved specially for this purpose.

Eventually Li Peng, who had always favored military intervention, and was now no longer blocked by Zhao Ziyang, was able to bring in the 27th and 38th armies from the provinces to attempt to occupy the city, apparently believing that the local army unit was too sympathetic to the protesters and unwilling to fire on their friends and relatives. Then June 1st it turned ugly. The Beijingers flooded into the streets to block the army, as they had on May 20-24. They set up barricades, and blocked off streets with vehicles. The army came from all 4 directions, systematically taking control and establishing checkpoints of their own. The protesters threw rocks and Molotov cocktails. Vehicles burned across the city, often with occupants in them. There are reports of soldiers and police being beaten to death, and burned to death. There was a lot of live media coverage that this point, and it shows soldiers firing into crowds with live ammo. It also shows tank commanders being pulled out of tanks and beaten to death by protesters. By all accounts the army systematically took the city block by block. By 1 AM June 5th the army had reached Tienanmen Square, and gave one last plea for amnesty, saying they had orders to secure the square by 6AM by whatever means necessary, and would rather let the students flee than kill them. At 4AM the student leader took a final vote. By 5:40AM June 5th the square was cleared of protesters for the first time in 50 days. You still hear conflicting accounts of exactly what happened that morning.

The story of tank man takes place that morning, the 5th of June. Many protesters had attempted to return to Tienanmen Square and were shot on the morning of June the 5th. But in the “tank man” incident takes place a little off of Tienanmen square and no bodies are visible. You’ve all seen the picture, maybe even several versions of it. A lone young man dress nice stands in front of a column of 4 Chinese tanks. He just stands there preventing them from going to Tienanmen Square. They try to go around him, and he moves to the side so they can’t. He holds a shopping bag in each had, and they are full of groceries. We do not know his name or fate. There are many conflicting stories even now. He was Wang Weilin, no he wasn’t. He was imprisoned for a time and then released, he was killed by firing squad, he was never caught.

The incident itself was seen by many and caught on camera by several. He stood there blocking the tanks, with his groceries in his hands. Unlike the last two times this had happened in the last two weeks, there were no throngs of people beside him blocking tanks. The battle was already lost that morning, he had to know that. There are many conflicting estimates on death counts, but clearly there were plenty and they had already happened and the army held the square. Preventing these tanks from reaching the nearby, already militarily occupied square accomplished nothing. Yet there he stood alone. Neither he nor the tank commander said anything to each other. The tank stops and shuts its engines. He climbs onto the tank and speaks into its ports. He has a short conversation with the gunner. He jumps off the tank. The hatch opens and the tank commander says something. The tanks engines restart, and the lone man hustles back in front of the tank. The stand-off continues. Eventually two pedestrians in blue come up and snatch him away. Secret police? Friends? Concerned citizens?

Four western reporters got versions of the incident in film, and successfully smuggled them out of China, in various ways. Several other versions were confiscated. Many of the photos have won awards. One of the iconic photos in in Life’s 2003 collection of 100 photos that changed the world. In the Western media he is usually called “tank man,” but as “unknown rebel” he made it only Time’s list of the 100 most influential people of the 20th century. In 2009 a new photo of him was discovered, taken from ground level it focus on two Chinese men running away terrified. But if you look carefully in the background you see a lone man in the middle of the road holding two shopping bags standing still, while a column of tanks are a hundred yards off approaching …

Tienanmen in 1989 is a complex story, with many angles, and spun as thoroughly in the West as it was spun by the Chinese. Once I thought “Tank Man” was a symbol of non-violent resistance of Tienanmen. He’s not, that happened earlier, for weeks, in crowds of hundreds of thousands, even millions. “Tank Man” is a late hit, after one story is over as the next story is beginning. He is the story of the day after non-violent resistance, when the battle is already lost. And he does it again. He serves as a symbol that not everything was lost. That even if the students flee the tanks in the depths of the night, the next morning in broad daylight the game of tank vs. civilian can go on again with the cameras watching. He reminds us that when great events are over, there is still spin, and the civilians can play the game of spin too.

I am grateful that there are still victories to be had after a sound defeat.
I am grateful that tank commanders often refuse to run over civilians.
I am grateful that civilians sometimes stand up to tank commanders.
I am grateful that someone unknown can capture the world’s imagination and hold it for years.
I am grateful that shopping bags can be weapons of pacifism.
I am grateful that 6-4-1989 cannot be forgotten in China no matter how much it’s memory is repressed.

Other Notables for me for today
Gen. Marshall calls for the Marshall Plan, whereby the victors of WWII will bankroll economically re-constructing Europe in an attempt to prevent another World War in a generation, 1947. Bose-Einstein condensate first created in a lab, 1995, Birth of Adam Smith (economist), Federico Garcia Lorca (poet). Bill Moyers (journalist), Laurie Anderson (performance artist), death of Dee Dee Ramone (musician)

Friday, June 4, 2010

June 4th – Saint Gustav Schroeder Day

Story: Saint Gustav Schroeder was born in 1885 and died in 1959. Much has been written about the central story of his life, but I’ve had troubles finding more information about his early and late years. Gustav was a German who, at age 17, he went to sea and became a sailor. Over the next 37 years he worked his way up the ranks, becoming eventually the captain of a luxury ocean liner stationed out of Hamburg, the MV St. Louis. Now 1939 was not a good year for the German luxury tourism industry. However, Kristallnacht had occurred 6 months earlier and many of the few Jews left in Germany were desperate to escape. They had mostly lost their jobs, and been subjected to additional rents, so they were nearly out of money. But a group of Jews cooked up the idea of spending the last of their money on a cruise ticket to the Caribbean and just STAYING in Cuba or Jamaica or the US, rather than coming back to Germany.

On May 13, 1939 the MV St. Louis sailed out of Hamburg bound for Cuba, carrying a crew of 231, 930 Jewish refugees hoping to escape Germany, 6 non-Jewish refugees hoping to flee, and apparently 1 genuine tourist. Most had sold everything they owned for the cruise tickets. Several of the Jews had come out of hiding for the first time in months to board the ship. Its story was made into a book entitled Voyage of the Damned, and in 1976 into an academy award winning movie entitled the Voyage of the Damned. Now right at the beginning it was clear that this trip was not full of high-tipping rich folk, and of course, the Jews had been pretty effectively demonized in Germany by then. The crew was surly towards the Jews, and the Nazi flag flew on the ship, and Hilter’s portrait dominated the social hall. In the first few days, Schroeder, who was non-Jewish and staunchly anti-Nazi even before this story, called a meeting of the whole staff, emphasizing that the Jews were paying guests, and were to be treated with the same respect due any other paying guest or he would come down like a hammer. One thing that dominated the early part of the voyage was passing around the story of Aaron Pozner. Aaron Pozner had been released from Dachau two weeks earlier for reasons that are still unclear with the condition that if he did not leave the country immediately he would be killed. But he had seen the inside of the concentration camps first hand, and he wanted everyone to know what awaited them if they were not able to escape.
The trip to Cuba was in many ways relaxing, good food, movies, a pool, it was a luxury liner after all, and there was no immediate trouble. The one of the elderly passengers whose health was already failing died. His wife wanted him buried in Cuba, but the ship had no facilities to keep the body that long, so Capt. Schroeder pushed for a burial at sea. He found a Rabbi, on board and kloodged together the best compromise ritual he could between a traditional Jewish burial, and a traditional burial at sea. One of his underlings, who Schroeder knew was a Secret Service plant, insisted that Party regulations required a burial at sea to be draped in the Swastika flag, and Captain Schroeder’s first act of treason was to refuse this and to allow the Jew to be buried without the Swastika flag.

When the ship arrived in Cuba, they found that Cuban immigration law had been changed in early 1939, to prevent just what was now occurring. Tourists were still allowed and encouraged and required no visas, but “refugees” required a visa, and a significant monetary bond “to insure that they did not become wards of the state.” Further, the precise rules had changed since Jan, so most of the Jews thought they had already paid the required fee to the required person, when they got their tickets, but now found that if they wanted to get off at Cuba it would be another large fee, which almost none of them had the money for. There was much bureaucracy and negotiation, the ship sat in harbor accomplishing nothing. The crew and passengers all became distrustful of the captain. The passengers became fearful that there were SS and Gestapo had spies on board the ship watching, as indeed there were. One man slit his wrists and jumped overboard. But the Cuban police got him, sent him to the hospital, and eventually brought him back to the ship. Cuban boats patrolled the side of the ship to insure no one snuck out. The passengers began debating the merits of a suicide rather than being returned to the concentration camps. The captain set up “suicide patrols” to patrol the ship at night looking for people attempting suicide (and the beginnings of mutiny plans). In the end, the Cuban navy threatened to open fire if the MV St. Louis didn’t leave the harbor, and it left with only 23 of the 936 hopefuls having managed to disembark at Cuba. As they left Havana harbor it was full of rented boats with family of the Jews who had arrived in Cuba or America in earlier months shouting their farewells, expecting never to see their loved ones alive again.

So Schroeder took the ship to Florida, which was close, figuring that Roosevelt had been talking a lot about opposing the Nazis and rescuing the Jews from Germany. We actually have now records of Roosevelt’s cabinet discussing what to do about the MV St. Louis and its cargo full of desperate Jews. They really hoped Cuba would take them, because when push came to shove Roosevelt was not willing to bend the immigration quota laws that had just been passed to allow the Jews entry. The boat milled around the edge of international waters in Florida for some time, making regular radio pleas and hoping for a change of policy, but none of the fleeing Jews from this ship were allowed to enter the US.

At this point the Hapag cruise line ordered Schroeder to start heading back to Germany, and to make some haste. Their company said, this was because of supply issues, and the ship was running low on food and water, but there was also real worry that war was going to break out soon. But here Captain Schroeder made his next heroic act. He vowed, but not yet publicly, that none of this Jews were going back to Germany, and that he would not return until he’d found safe places for each of his passengers. So he headed back and started up back-room negotiations with Britain. During the Atlantic crossing, a group of Jewish youths conducted a mutiny, and succeeded in capturing the bridge, but not the engine room, and Captain Schroeder and his crew were able to re-establish control. At this point it is clear that Captain Schroeder is personally leading the negotiation to find places for his passengers. As they cross the Atlantic, Britain does not budge, and the Captain and his upper officers form a desperate plan. They are going to run their ocean liner aground on British soil and force the issue. They planned out exactly how they were going to do it. However, before the day came, there was a diplomatic breakthrough. Britain wouldn’t take all the Jews, but if a few other countries would agree to share the immigrants they would probably be willing to take in some of them as a well-timed public relations gesture. France, Belgium and the Netherlands quickly agreed to those terms too, and the remaining 913 refugees were split up roughly 4 ways and deposited each in Britain, France, the Netherlands, and Belgium. By June 20th the ship was basically empty and on its way home.

Sept 1st, 1939 a few months later saw war break out. Many of the Jews from the "Voyage of the Damned" were in France, Belgium or Netherlands, when those countries were overrun by the Germans. Records show that 275 of the passengers of the MV St. Louis died in concentration camps after all. The MV St. Louis and Captain Schroeder were at sea when war broke out. Schroeder ran the loose and hastily erected Arctic Blockade to reach Murmansk an (at that time) neutral port for resupplies. Then he successfully ran the much tighter Helgoland blockade to take the ship and crew home to Hamburg. Schroeder, however, refused to join the German military navy. He spent WWII in poverty. He tried to become a writer with little success. After the war, he was brought up on war crime charges during the de-nazification trials. However, several of the Jews he had saved spoke out at his trial and he was acquitted on all counts. His last decade or so, he was supported almost entirely financially by gifts from the Jews he had saved, and he died in 1958. In 1993 the state of Israel proclaimed him among “the righteous of the Nations” Gentiles who repeatedly risked their lives to save Jews from the Holocaust with no plan of reward.

I am grateful for normal folk who become heroes when the situation demands.
I am grateful for systems to provide basic assistance for refugees fleeing war or political violence.
I am grateful for intercontinental communications.
I am grateful that the evils of Nazism were exposed, reviled and defeated.

Other Notables for today
June 4th is the day most associated with the Tienanmen square struggles of 1989 in China. It is the date of the first hot air balloon ride by the Montgolfier brothers of France. It was the date of the first Pulitzer prizes, and the first minimum wage law in the US (in Massachusetts). It was when the 19th amendment granting womens suffrage passed Congress.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

June 3rd – Saint Franz Kafka Day

Franz Kafka was a Jew from Prague, who was born 1883 and dies June 3rd, 1924, at age 41. He was the oldest of 6 children. His dad was an loud, overbearing businessman, his mom worked 12 hours a day at the family business as well, and he was raised by a series of governesses. He majored in Law. To all external views he led a brief and unremarkable life. He worked at insurances companies as a claims adjuster. He also wrote up his companies’ annual reports. He also helped his brother-in-law found an asbestos factory. He flirted with Socialism and Anarchism in school, but gave little sign of following them as an adult. He had a 5 year long affair with one lady that involved them being engaged and breaking it off, and then being engaged again and then breaking it off for good. In his 30s he contracted TB, which troubled him off and on. To his co-workers he was a diligent, competent, boring man. He worried that he was repulsive, but others descriptions of him are always, as a neat, handsome, austere, intelligent man with dry wit, maybe a bit boring. His close friends knew that he fancied himself a writer, and that much of his spare time was spent writing, but his literary career never went anywhere. He published a few short stories, and even the novella “Metamorphosis” but none of them attracted any attention during his life. He had two other brief romantic relationships in his last years. Eventually his TB got so bad that he was put in a sanitarium, where his throat became so damaged from coughing that it was too painful for him to eat, and he starved to death, amid plenty of food at the age of 41. Lest he seem too saintly, we know he also had subscriptions to several trashy porno mags.

At his death, Franz Kafka was a wholly unremarkable man… and yet. There is some inconclusive evidence that Franz Kafka is the inventor of the civilian hard hat. Hard hats were already common in military contexts. But the idea of asking civilian workers to wear hard hats to minimize on the job injuries was first promoted by his insurance firm, and seems to have been his idea. And, of course, what he is known for today is his brilliant, disturbing, illuminating fiction-writing. Indeed, his last request to his best friend, Max Brod was “Dearest Max, my last request: Everything I leave behind me ... in the way of diaries, manuscripts, letters (my own and others'), sketches, and so on, [is] to be burned unread. “ Needless to say Brod didn’t (and apparently told Kafka while he was alive that he had no intention of burning Kafka’s writings, not matter how much he begged). At least 20 notebooks of Kafka’s were in the hands of his girlfriend Dora Diamant, when they were confiscated by the Gestapo in 1933, and by then he was (post-humously) famous enough that they might have survived somehow.

But his literature… He wrote an “accurate and informed” depiction of the Austrian legal process, given his expertise as an insurance lawyer, and it seems absurd, otherworldly, alien. He writes about self-loathing as a transformative experience. He was profoundly skilled at taking our assumptions about the world and showing them through a twisted mirror so that they seemed untenable, barely imaginable. Before we can change a problem we must be able to see it as a problem, and Kafka excelled at showing us problems we barely had the conceptual apparatus for.

I am grateful for IV technology so that no one need starve to death in a well-stocked hospital anymore.
I am grateful that TB is largely conquered for the moment (in the first world)
I am grateful that the most ordinary insurance lawyer, can contain depths of wisdom, imagination, and literature, than an ordinary life can be rendered extraordinary in the judgment of history.
I am grateful that even an insurance lawyer can be the good guy from time to time, thinking up new ways to minimize on-the-job injuries.
I am grateful for literature that helps us make sense of self-loathing.
I am grateful for literature that helps us see how ridiculous many of the aspects of our society are …
I am grateful for regular people struggling constantly to make sense of the meanings of our lives, failing, sharing their failings, and struggling on for meaning …

Other Notables for me for today
The death of Saint Pope John XXIII, the humble Pope who pushed for Vatican II, and championed Ecumenicism, and the Catholic Church reaching out to cooperate with religions that it had previously been antagonistic with. John XXIII is not sainted by the Catholic church, but several other denominations, including the Episcopalian Church of the USA, and the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America have recognized him as a saint.
This day is also the date for the heresy conviction of Peter Abelard a great Medieval logician, the attempted assassination of Andy Warhol by the author of the “Society for Cutting Up Men” manifesto, the Ixtoc 1, gulf of Mexico oil drilling disaster of 1979 (echoes, echoes), and the beginnings of the Tienanmen Square crackdown of 1989, of which more tomorrow and the fifth, …

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

June 2nd – ??

Stories: I don’t have a good story yet for June 2nd. Any suggestions?


Notables for me for this day
The births of Martha Washington, the Marquis de Sade, and the notorious Italian occultist/trickster Count Cagliostro

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

June 1st – Saint Andei Vosnezsensky Day

Story – Andrei Vosnezsensky was born in 1933 in Moscow, and died June 1st 2010, as in today, peacefully at home at the age of 77. He was one of the leading poets of the Soviet Union, in an era noted for great poets.

At age 14 he began a friendship with Boris Pasternak (who was already a noted poet, and later authored of Doctor Zhivago, and won a Nobel) who became a mentor for him. In 1957 Andrei graduated from the Moscow Architectural Institute with a degree in Engineering. But famously he witnessed a night time fire at the Architectural Institute that year and wrote the poem “Fire in the Architectural Institute” about the experience, and later said “I believe in symbols. I understood that architecture was burned out in me. I became a poet." He published his first book of poems in 1958, and was famous all over Russia by 1960. By 1963 he was “more famous than the Beatles” in Russia, and was soon shipped off to tour other countries, as part of the cultural exchanges of the Cold War Thaw of the 60s.

Vosnezsensky was famous for performing his poems as well as just writing them and was among the best poetry performers in the world in the 20th century. He was also famous for developing friendships with many other poets, artists and intellectuals, including for example Marilyn Monroe, Allan Ginsberg, and Yevgeny Yevtushenko.
His best piece is probably “I am Goya” one of his early pieces about the horrors of war, which was also a performance wowwer and delivered throughout his career. I also like his “Anti-Worlds” which was adapted into a theater performance a few years after he wrote it. In his later career he wrote a very successful rock opera called “Juno and Avos,” and a Russian pop hit “Millions of Scarlet Roses” sung by Alla Pugacheva.

I am grateful for my intellectual mentors.
I am grateful for the courage to pursue a career that was risky at best.
I am grateful for poets who struggle to make war horrible again, despite all the defense mechanisms we have built up to filter out the awful truths.

Other Notables for me for this day
Birth of Alanis Morissette (musician), deaths of John Dewey (philosopher), Helen Keller (activist), the Martyrdom of Mary Dyer, 1660, hanged for repeatedly preaching Quakerism in Massachusetts before freedom of religion. Baudelaire’s classic poetry Le Fleur Du Mal was published in 1857. On more morally ambiguous notes, (but certainly effecting me), this is also the day that CNN launched 24-hour news in 1980, and that GM filed for bankruptcy protection in 2009.