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Speaking of Monday’s rare eclipse, I quite accidentally ran across the following exchange regarding a similar 1912 phenomenon, between Winston and Clementine Churchill:

Clementine was staying at the Hotel Bristol in Paris, where she had “flitted off with some friends,” after recovering from a miscarriage back in England. In her letter to Winston of April 17th, she commented: “It is so bright and warm, not a breath of wind & a cloudless sky. The (solar) eclipse was weird & it became very dark for a few moments. Everyone out in the street with bits of smoked glass. The light was strange and metallic, like lighting on the stage. Rosie has gone off to see a friend., and I am resting — the horror of the Titanic (which had sunk the night of 14-15 April with the loss of 1,513 lives)  overshadows everything. Goodby my Darling. Your very loving Clem.”

 

Winston wrote back April 18th from 33 Eccelston Square in London: ” My Darling — Your description of the metallic light of the eclipse is perfectly correct. I noticed it myself. It also got much colder. The Titanic disaster is the prevailing theme here. The story is a good one. The story of the great traditions of the sea towards women & children reflects nothing but honor upon our civilization. Always your loving and devoted husband, W.”

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Vienna 2013, The Prader

Vienna 2013, The Prader

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And that there was a connection to Charles Lindbergh?

From today’s Writer’s Almanac:

It’s the birthday of philosopher and writer Jean-Paul Sartre, born in Paris (1905). This giant of existential thought was also a well-known prankster during his days at the École Normale. He and a friend dropped water balloons from the roof onto dinner guests in tuxedos, shouting, “Thus pissed Zarathustra!” He sometimes showed up naked to official functions, and he vomited on the feet of a school official. After Charles Lindbergh successfully flew across the Atlantic, Sartre and several of his friends announced to the media that Lindbergh would be receiving an honorary degree at the École Normale, then one of them impersonated Lindbergh and convinced the media that he was at the school. There was such an uproar when it turned out to be a hoax that the school’s president was forced to resign.

In 1964, Sartre was awarded the Nobel Prize in literature, but he refused it. When he died in 1980, 50,000 people turned out on the streets of Paris to pay their respects.

He wrote: “I was there, standing in front of a window whose panes had a definite refraction index. But what feeble barriers! I suppose it is out of laziness that the world is the same day after day. Today it seemed to want to change. And then, anything, anything could happen.”

The new Steven Spielberg film, where Daniel Day Lewis looks like a photograph of the real Lincoln at least 73% of the time, is something more: it is a test.

It is a test of how much we are willing to trust the lawyerly class to govern our nation. We recognize rhetorical debates and deal-making dominating ethics and logic until the last minutes of the final vote on the 13th Amendment. The fundamental truth and benefits of human political equality is portrayed as secondary to securing postal managerships and other influence-peddling. We are taunted by how crass and dogmatic and vain is the human condition.

We are tested by this newsreel of a period film to wonder at how humanity has managed to move forward, occasionally, in the face our selfishly aggressive nature. Yet sometimes we do make progress, and this portrays such a moment, in all it’s angst.

but Independence Day is the commemoration of the adoption of the Declartion of Independence, on July 4th, 1776, by the Continental Congress.

Tonight on the network news, I listened to esteemed broadcaster Brian Williams refer to “July 4th” and the fireworks and the food, and never mention Independence Day, or its meaning in history and in the present day.

Christmas is on December 25th every year, but its meaning, whether religious or secular,  is in its name, not the date.

Independence Day is about where we came from and what our forefathers did, and wouldn’t it be nice, and meaningful, to discuss among ourselves and our children how we are part of that process? That little word, “independence,” is a cornerstone of what makes America and Americans what and who we are. A discussion of how “independence” and “interdependence” relate to us in our contemporary American and global culture might be a productive way to spend “the Fourth of July.” Just saying…

Happy Independence Day!

To mark the opening of the St. Lawrence Seaway, a flotilla of seven warships escorted the Royal Yacht Britannia through the rivers and lakes all the way to Chicago. It was a muggy July 20th in 1959, when the Brittania, then almost new, dropped anchor at Chicago’s inner harbor, heralding Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip‘s arrival, the first to the city by a reigning British monarch.

As a 16-year-old, I filmed the action from a unique vantage point — aboard my father’s little launch, as the glistening Royal Barge powered by, nearly swamping us,with Phillip waving at the pleasure boats and the Queen ducking behind the windshield to keep her curly hairdo in place.  Sailors at attention stood on the bow and stern of her mahogany, silver-trimmed barge, flying the royal banner. My film is long gone (I think I cut a clip from it into a high school film project we called “An Expose of Spiriualism.”

But here is a newsreel of the event from British Pathe: http://www.britishpathe.com/video/queen-conquers-chicago

The Queen’s barge landed at the Monroe Harbor seawall, since known as the Queen’s Landing, and she crossed a red carpet across Lake Shore Drive to Buckingham Fountain, where she was greeted by Mayor Daly and Governor Stratton. A million gawkers lined the shoreline and fountain area. They paraded in open cars up Michigan Avenue, crossed the Chicago River, and proceeded to lunch at the Ambassador West Hotel.

Thomas Edison said this on New Year’s Eve in 1879, as he turned the switch on and off to thousands of incandescent lights in his Menlo Park lab.

In a way his prediction came true, in the sense that, at least in America and the advanced countries, candles are lighted mostly for special occasions, but by the poor as well as the rich.

How might his prediction prove relevant to our future today? For example, might we predict: “We will make electric cars so cheap to operate that only the rich will drive vehicles with internal combustion engines.”

I’m reminded by the following entry in The Writer’s Almanac that today is the 271st birthday of the famous scribe and biographer. Read much more about him and his contemporaries in my essay for the Chicago Literary Club, “Samuel Johnson and His Clubbable Friends’ (www.chilit.org).

“It’s the birthday of the biographer James Boswell (books by this author), born in 1740 in Edinburgh, Scotland. His family was descended from minor royalty, and they had occupied the same more than two hundred years. Boswell’s father was a judge who insisted that his son study law. So James Boswell passed his bar exams in Scotland, but he didn’t really like law and he didn’t really like Scotland. Boswell loved gossip, drinking, and traveling, and he wanted to be in London, to be in the company of the rich and famous. He also wanted to be known as a great lover, so he bragged constantly about his love life.

“James Boswell was a good writer with an incredible memory, and he started keeping a journal as a teenager, and he kept it for the rest of his life, filled with reflections and anecdotes about the famous people he befriended—Voltaire, Rousseau, Oliver Goldsmith, John Wilkes. Most of all he wrote about his friend Samuel Johnson. When Boswell was just 22 years old, he met Johnson, who was his idol, in the back of a bookshop. Johnson was 53, and he gave the young Boswell a hard time when he met him, but Boswell went back to visit him anyway and they soon became good friends. Over the next 20 years, Boswell followed Johnson around, and he always had paper and took notes constantly. Johnson was often frustrated with Boswell, and Boswell could be critical of Johnson, but they still liked to spend time together, and they traveled together through Scotland and the Hebrides.

“After Johnson’s death, Boswell spent years writing a biography of his friend. He used letters, interviews, as well as his own diary, of which he said, “A page of my Journal is like a cake of portable soup. A little may be diffused into a considerable portion.” Finally, in 1791, The Life of Samuel Johnson was published, and people loved it. There had never been a biography like it before. Instead of a dry recitation of facts, Boswell filled his book with personal anecdotes and vivid descriptions, and overall it was fun to read, and he made Johnson sound like a real person who wasn’t totally perfect. It’s still considered one of the greatest biographies ever written, and it’s a big part of the reason why Samuel Johnson is still so famous today.”

It’s been exactly a decade since the outmoded Electoral College system of electing our Presidents, with the aid of the Supreme Court, handed the Presidency of the U.S. to a man who lost the popular vote in the nation by the population of Milwaukee. It was a close election all right, and the finger on the scale of history tipped the balance away from the people’s choice.

It’s happened three times before in our history, and it will happen again, and again, until the Electoral College is eliminated or marginalized. The electoral college was a political compromise made in the founding days of the republic, when it was feared that the common man, in the days before mass media, could not know enough about the candidates to make an informed choice. So now, in all but two states, electors unknown to the people cast all of each state’s electoral votes for the winner of the popular votes in that state, throwing out all votes cast for the opposition, and in effect dumbing down the national electoral votes, so they do not necessarily reflect the overall popular will. How dumb is that?

September 2017
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