This Day in History

December 11th

1903 – British expedition to Tibet begins. Also called the British invasion of Tibet. The reason for the invasion was based on rumor. Britain feared that China, who controlled Tibet, was going to give it to Russia, thus opening a path for Russia to invade British controlled India. Despite China’s denial Britain invaded Tibet to establish a presence there. The Dalai Lama was forced to flee. (Nothing new there) A Tibetan force 1,500, mostly armed with swords and flintlock muskets, was decimated by British machine gun fire. The British commander urged his gunners to “bag” as many of the fleeing enemy as they could. An estimated 600-700 Tibetans were killed. The British campaign continued victorious and Tibet was eventually forced to capitulate. The terms of the negotiation allowed Britain to trade in Tibet, prohibited Tibet from having diplomatic relations with any other foreign power, and Tibet had to pay a large indemnity to Britain.

Tibet essentially had to pay reparations for the right to be invaded. Imperialism at its finest.

1919 – Boll weevil monument dedicated in Enterprise, Alabama. The reason for the monument is because the boll weevil destroyed cotton crops, farmers turned to planting peanuts, which in turn brought greater prosperity to the area. It might be the only known monument honoring a pest. The statue of a woman raising a pedestal with an enlarged boll weevil in it has been the target of much vandalism over the years.

Well, driving to Alabama to see the Boll Weevil Monument certainly would seem to be a necessary addition to anybody’s bucket list.

 1928 – National League President, John Heydler, proposes that major league baseball adopt the designated hitter rule. A tenth player who would bat in place of the usually weak hitting pitcher. The American League was against the rule, mostly because the National League had suggested it. Baseball Commissioner Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis was reportedly in favor of the rule but it was abandoned before it reached him. It wasn’t until 1973 that the American League adopted the rule. The National League opposed it then, mostly because the American League wanted it.

It was a bad idea in 1928 and it’s a bad idea now.


1863 – Annie Jump Cannon. Astronomer. Valedictorian at Wellesley College, she helped create the Harvard Classification System, which organized and classified stars based their temperatures and spectral types. She was nearly deaf because of an illness, probably scarlet fever, and this caused her to be somewhat isolated socially so she threw herself into her work. She worked mostly in the field of Spectroscopy, the study of the interaction between matter and electromagnetic radiation. Cannon was originally hired, with some other women, by the Harvard Observatory to map and define every star in the sky. Men operated the telescopes and took photographs while women examined and catalogued the data. She developed a system of dividing stars into spectral classes and in her lifetime identified around 350,000.

Cannon published catalogs of stellar spectra, was curator of astronomical photography at Harvard, and received honorary doctorate degrees from around the world. She and her female counterparts were also criticized for doing “men’s work” and not being housewives. Maybe because of her physical handicap, Cannon never married. Like many dominant women of that era she was a suffragist.

Fascinating woman. To accomplish so much in an era when it was even more difficult for women to be recognized for their achievements. And to do it with a handicap no less. Although her deafness was probably an asset when having to work around men.

 1937 – Jim Harrison. Novelist and poet. Harrison lived in the UP, Upper Peninsula of Michigan. He embraced the outdoors and wrote mostly about the woodsy, rural lifestyle of the UP. He was a hard-living, hard-drinking, hard-writing man who despised literary pretension. He also became upset whenever his writing was compared to that of Hemingway. Harrison’s best-known work is probably “Legends of the Fall” which was made into a movie starring Brad Pitt. He survived a stint in Hollywood as a screenwriter. A quote of his from that period: “If you’ve known a lot of actresses and models, you return to waitresses because at least they smell like food.” He died from a heart attack at age 78, sitting at his desk writing in longhand.

With great joy I read many of Jim Harrison’s books years ago. His words were close to the land and part of it. His name is going to go back on my reading list.

 1939 – Tom Hayden. Political and anti-war activist. Hayden’s claim to fame includes being one of the Chicago Seven defendants and his marriage to actress Jane Fonda. Neither role garnered him many points in conservative circles. He was a Freedom Rider during the Civil Rights struggle and was a co-founder of SDS, Students for a Democratic Society. He was a radical who also served more traditionally in the California Assembly and State Senate. He ran for higher political offices in California but was never elected. Hayden died in 2016.

If the trial had been televised the Judge Hoffman vs The Chicago Seven might have been the highest grossing reality show of all time. The drama and shenanigans in the courtroom were certainly fun to read about. For me at the time Hayden was a bit player with Abbie, Jerry and the Judge stealing most of the scenes.



E pluribus unum

Out of many, one. This Latin phrase appears on the Great Seal of the United States. The original concept being that out of thirteen separate colonies came one nation.

I spent last Thanksgiving weekend in Washington, D.C. with my sister, Jan, and my brother-in-law, Dave. We came as tourists and we embraced that role. Our first stop was the Capitol building and the start of the tour was a twenty-minute introductory film entitled “E pluribus unum”. It was a nicely done film that was a tribute to the ideals of our nation’s beginning. The greatness of America lies in the noble concept of what we should try to be. That we fall short of that goal is sad and frustrating, yet the groundwork is there for us to continue the effort. What also impressed me was the respectful attention of the audience. After the film was over we filed out in a contemplative silence, as if pondering what we should and could be. I whispered to my sister, “I think a certain president might benefit from seeing this film.”

The rest of the day was spent at the Smithsonian’s Museum of American History. As evidenced by this blog I’m a history nut so I was in a happy place. I’ve been to various Smithsonian museums before and because of massive crowd sizes the experience wasn’t what I had hoped for. We had chosen a good weekend and while the museum wasn’t empty the crowd size was manageable.

On Saturday we went to Mt. Vernon. We arrived early when the crowd was sparse and there was little waiting in lines. We were led through Washington’s house and saw some of the original furniture, including the bed in which he died. I both admired and felt sorry for the volunteers working there. Having to give the same presentation to endless groups of tourists had to be mind numbing and surpassed my love of history.

George Washington was a slaveholder and the magnificence of Mt. Vernon would not have been possible without an enslaved workforce. That fact was not glossed over in the presentation while still trying to be dealt with delicately. It was pointed out that Washington had qualms about the practice because he freed his slaves in his will, yet while he was alive he did nothing to challenge the practice. After the house tour we wandered the grounds on our own. As we did the slave issue remained in my mind. We were honoring this great man and his beautiful estate, and yet this could also be viewed as a monument to the contradictive nature of our nation. Our fledging nation’s early economic survival and success depended upon an evil system. And the reward for the descendants of that system is still to be treated as second-class citizens.

As we walked about I noted that almost all the visitors were white, aside from those who I guessed were from different countries. What I didn’t see were any African-American tourists. I guess that shouldn’t be surprising. I was proved wrong about that however, and in a positive way. We arrived at Washington’s tomb just as a ceremony was beginning. A group stood in front of the tomb while a guide explained that Washington wanted to be buried at Mt. Vernon rather than at the Capitol. A young girl volunteered to lead the crowd in the Pledge of Allegiance and the guide asked if there were any active military members or veterans in the crowd to lay a wreath at the tomb. Nobody raised a hand and I panicked. I couldn’t be the only veteran there! This definitely was not my thing, I never step forward, I hate to be noticed. Fighting an obligatory urge, my right arm remained frozen to my side. I had voluntarily raised it a long time ago and it had cost me three years of unhappiness. This was not the type of acknowledgement or recognition I would seek. Fortunately someone else stepped forward. I was happy to see it was a black man, the first black tourist I had seen that day. He very solemnly and proudly performed the duty, complete with a salute at the end. Pulled it off a lot better than I would have. The guide thanked and asked him to identify himself. He was a Lt. Colonel in the Air Force. I would have approached and said something complimentary except he was an officer. I hadn’t liked officers in the Navy and I guess I haven’t made peace with that yet.

From Mt Vernon it was on to Arlington National Cemetery. Dave’s father was interned there and we went to pay our respects. He had been a Marine and fought in the battles of Saipan and Iwo Jima. I had met him, a kind, decent man who certainly deserved our thanks and respect. We then walked to the gravesite of JFK. A set of steps up a hill led to the site. The sky had been a bright blue when we were at Mt. Vernon, then clouded over for our visit to Arlington, but the sun broke through again as we climbed the steps. An aura of solemnity encompassed the whole cemetery and was especially noticeable at JFK’s gravesite. Fifty-four years have passed since his death and on this day, and probably every day, there was a stream of people visiting where he had been laid to rest. All I could think was such a terrible loss for our nation.

Sunday dawned with a bright sun but with a chilly wind. I decided to visit the Vietnam Memorial by myself, and agreed to meet up with Dave and Jan later. Our hotel was close to the Capitol so I walked almost the whole length of the mall. With not too many people about it was a peaceful, serene, albeit long walk. I’ve been at the Memorial before and it never fails to impress me. Since it is my generation being memorialized I am biased, but I cannot conceive of a more moving tribute to those fallen.

So many names, too many to comprehend, so I did what I’ve done in the past. I’d stop, pick one name and read it, out loud if no one was near me. I knew nothing about him, where he was from, how he died, only that his name was on a wall because of that awful war. A small show of recognition for the sacrifice he had made. My thoughts turned to my cousin Billy who had recently passed away. We had been very close as boys, less so as adults because we had drifted off in different political directions. I went into the Navy, Billy into the Marines. I was already out and in college when Billy returned from Vietnam. The night he got back he called me, said he had to talk. I drove to his family’s farm and got there about 8PM. I was a little older; we were about 22 and 20. We didn’t drink, we played a card game he had played in Nam, and he talked. I listened. To an unburdening of experiences, fear and trauma. We were still talking when his father got up in the morning to milk cows. It was the night my politics changed, the night I became anti-war. Billy and I never re-visited that conversation. I have done oral history interviews with veterans of WWII and Korea and at a family gathering I asked Billy if he would want to do that. After a long, uncomfortable pause, he nodded and said maybe. He died unexpectedly before that ever happened.

Reading the names on the wall, thinking about my cousin, I had to leave before my emotions became too de-stabilized. I took another long walk, to Ford’s Theater, where I met Dave and Jan. The rest of the day was devoted to Lincoln. We toured the theater, where I learned more about the assassination plot, and then went to Lincoln’s Cottage. Now well within the city’s boundaries, at the time of the Civil War it was a country retreat for Lincoln. As at Mt. Vernon, we walked the same floors, occupied the same space, these great men had.

Delving back into our nation’s history, there was a constant, a theme, that was impossible to escape. Slavery. It was always there. On the backs of enslaved labor so much had been built. And its price has still not been paid. A disproportionate number of names on the Vietnam Wall belong to African-Americans. And yet we have those in this country who wave Confederate and Nazi flags. Two great divides in our country are the Civil War and the Vietnam War, and we are still dealing with each. I also fear we are embarking on a third great divide. Until we come to grips with the racial issue we will not be a healthy, whole, or great nation. How we reach that point I don’t know. A start might be to show the film “E pluribus unum” in schools, Legion halls, libraries, community centers across the nation.

This Day in History

November 30th

1487 – German Beer Purity Law passed. Reinheitsgebot, as later versions of this law became known, regulated what ingredients could be used in the making of beer. The law stipulated that the only barley, hops and water could be used to make beer.

This law has been in place for 530 years, or 517 years longer than the Thousand-Year Reich. The world would have been better off if Germany had stuck to just making beer.

 1753 – Benjamin Franklin awarded Copley Medal. The Royal Society of England gave out this medal for scientific achievement. It was the Nobel Prize of its era. Franklin received the medal for his work on electricity.  “Franklin showed that electricity consisted of a “common element” which he named “electric fire.” Further, electricity was “fluid” like a liquid. It passed from one body to another.” (1) And of course there was Franklin’s famous kite experiment proving electricity and lightening were the same. It led to his invention of the lightening rod.

Science has always moved us forward, despite those who resist it. No doubt Franklin had his detractors also, those who ridiculed him for his kite experiment. But no matter those who deny science, the lightening rod is still in use in today’s world…and the oceans are still rising.

1967 – Eugene McCarthy announces candidacy for President. The senator from Minnesota challenged the President from his own party in the primaries. McCarthy was opposed to the Vietnam War and frustrated by America’s continued involvement there. Pundits and the press dismissed his chances but young people (Clean for Gene) rallied behind him and he did well in the early primaries. Enough so that LBJ decided not to run for reelection. McCarthy’s success also prompted Bobby Kennedy to get into the race.

After Kennedy’s assassination Hubert Humphrey, also from Minnesota, won the nomination. At that time primary results did not automatically translate into delegates at the convention. Many Democrats felt disenfranchised by the results of the tumultuous convention in Chicago and Humphrey ended up losing the election to Richard Nixon. The party changed its nominating rules after that to try make the process fairer.

Given the results of the last go round, with super-delegates and what not, the Democrats still haven’t gone far enough. How does that go: “If you don’t learn from history you are bound to repeat it.”


1810 – Oliver Winchester. An American businessman who purchased a floundering firearms company and became successful manufacturing the Winchester repeating rifle. It has been labeled the “gun that won the West.”  “Oliver Fisher Winchester was an innovative and driven man who saw the future of firearms.” (2) I wonder if he foresaw the carnage of Las Vegas, Sutherland Springs, Orlando, Sandy Hook…

Winchester died in 1880 and his son, William, inherited the business. He died only months later. William’s wife believed the family was cursed by the spirits of those killed by the rifle.

There’s a lot more spirits to do the cursing now.

1874 – Winston Churchill. Prominent British statesman and twice Prime Minister of England. He famously led, and rallied, England during the darkest hours of WWII. He inspired that nation to stand up against the Nazi onslaught. Before the war he had a somewhat checkered and erratic career. In WWI, as First Lord of the Admiralty, he was the architect of the disastrous Gallipoli campaign. He somehow left the stain of that slaughter behind and went on to become one of the world’s greatest and best known leaders of the twentieth century.

Awareness comes to a child in stages, at least it did to me. First of self, next of family, extended family, and then the ever expanding world. As my education progressed and awareness grew, one of the first names I remember hearing from the international stage was Churchill. Because of the way his name was spoken I assumed he must be a great man. My first impression wasn’t wrong.

 1924 – Shirley Chisholm. 1st African-American woman elected to Congress. Chisholm served from 1969 to 1983 representing the 12th District of New York. Also, in 1972, she was the first woman to run for the presidential nomination for the Democratic Party. During the primaries she received criticism for visiting segregationist George Wallace in the hospital after he was shot. Later Wallace used his influence among Southern Representatives to help her pass a law requiring minimum wage for domestic workers. After her political career was over she lectured at colleges. Included in her themes were polarization and intolerance: She said “If you don’t accept others who are different, it means nothing that you’ve learned calculus.” A lesson it seems, that we as a nation are still sadly resisting.

While in office all of Chisholm’s staff was women, and half of those were black. Chisholm stated that during her political career she faced more discrimination because she was a woman than because she was black.

And now add sexual harassment to the challenges a woman faces in those hallowed halls of Congress.




This Day in History

November 23rd

1867 – Manchester Martyrs executed. Three members of the Irish Republican Brotherhood, Wm. Allen, Michael Larkin, and Michael O’Brien were hung for their role in the murder of a British policeman. They were involved in a plot to help two fellow Fenians escape from British custody. In the course of the escape a guard was killed. All of it was part of a rebellion to end England’s rule over Ireland. The men became martyrs to the cause due to crying out “God save Ireland” from the gallows. Partly a religious war, partly a fight for independence, the “Troubles” have been going on since 1603.

My November 14th Boss Tweed post mentions how the conflict even spilled over to New York City. A peace finally has been brokered and however uneasy, there is now no armed conflict or bombings taking place.

 1943 – William D. Cox banned from baseball. The owner of the Philadelphia Phillies was banished because he bet on his own team. Pete Rose, All-star player and manager, has also been banned from baseball for betting on his own team. And at one point in his career Rose played for the Phillies.

Maybe it’s something in the water in Philadelphia.

 1988 – Reagan vetoes ethics bill. From

“President Reagan announced today that he would pocket veto legislation tightening restrictions on lobbying by former Government officials and imposing them on members of Congress for the first time.” The bill would have banned former employees from lobbying on issues in which they were involved while in government. Reagan said the bill was “flawed and excessive,” that’s why he vetoed it.

Ethics in government? I can see where that would be a hard sell.


1859 – Billy the Kid. Small time criminal, vigilante, cattle rustler and gunslinger, Billy the Kid, alias William H. Bonney, led a short and eventful life. Born in Manhattan as Henry McCarty, probably illegitimate to use the terminology of the time, his mother moved to Kansas when he was a child. Orphaned at age 14 he soon turned to crime. He is believed to have killed eight or nine men. A jailbreak allowed him to escape the hangman’s noose once, but he was gunned down in New Mexico several months later by sheriff Pat Garrett.

Why do some otherwise small time characters receive such notoriety and lasting fame? Could it simply be the name change? Given the same deeds, I somehow doubt that Henry the Kid would have achieved the same status.

1882 – John Heinrich Rabe. Rabe was a German businessman and member of the Nazi Party who was living in Nanking, China at the time of the Rape of Nanking. He became head of a small group of Westerners who established the Nanking Safety Zone which helped an estimated 200,000 Chinese escape massacre. At the time, 1937, Japan and Germany had an Anti-Comintern pact and Rabe used his party credentials to stall and deflect the Japanese assault on civilians. The number of people slaughtered by the Japanese army is estimated to be anywhere from 60,000 to 200,000.

Rabe received little credit for his heroic and humanitarian efforts. When he returned to Germany he tried to publicize the Japanese atrocities, even trying to send a letter to Hitler. This brought on Gestapo attention and interrogation. It was only through the intervention of his employer that he was released. And then after the war, because of his Nazi Party affiliation, he was arrested first by the Russians and then the British. He was released but stripped of his work permit he lived the postwar years in abject poverty. When the people of Nanking learned of his plight they raised a sum of money and the mayor went to Germany to give it to Rabe. And every month thereafter a food package from Nanking arrived for him. Rabe died of a stroke in 1950.

So many Nazis escaped justice, with Gestapo members even working for the CIA. Yet a decent Nazi, perhaps the only one and pardon the oxymoron, suffers for his humanity.

 1888 – Harpo Marx. One of the members of the Marx Bros. madcap comedy team. Harpo left school after the 2nd grade and got his education on the streets of New York. With his brothers they first performed in vaudeville, then the stage and finally successfully transitioned to moving pictures in Hollywood. Unable to keep up with the fast talking wit of his brothers, they took away his lines. Offended at first, he countered with his mime act complete with honking horn. Harpo, a confirmed bachelor, finally married later in life and then adopted and raised four children.

Quite possibly the only mime I’ve ever liked. And I know this is a stretch but in looking at their photos, I see a similarity between Billy the Kid and Harpo Marx. Maybe it’s simply the head ware, or something in the shared stance, but check it out.



This Day in History

November 19th

1873 – Boss Tweed convicted. William Tweed was a corrupt New York City politician, head of a Democratic political machine called Tammany Hall. He wielded influence in the 1850’s and 60’s, and pilfered government funds to the tune of tens of millions of dollars, and became the third largest landowner in New York City. He kept New York’s burgeoning Irish population in check which made him valuable to the city’s elite. He exercised control with force and by dispensing favors and money. One example, in the building of a courthouse, a carpenter was paid $360,000 for one month’s work.

Tweed was constantly under attack by cartoonists in New York papers and it infuriated him. They portrayed him as a corpulent figure with a huge diamond stickpin on his chest. He said he didn’t mind if negative things were written about him because most of his constituents couldn’t read, but the pictures were killing him. Tweed’s undoing continued with the Orange riot of 1871. He allowed an Irish Protestant parade to celebrate an Orange victory over the Catholics. A mob of Irish Catholics attacked the parade and in the ensuing riot sixty people were killed displeasing the city’s elite. Without their support investigations began of his corrupt practices. Convicted, he briefly escaped to Spain but was recaptured, extradited, and died in prison.

A corrupt politician going to prison, now there’s a trend I wouldn’t mind seeing continue.

1923 – Oklahoma state senate impeaches Governor John Walton. Walton had declared martial law in Oklahoma to combat Ku Klux Klan terrorism. To do this he suspended the writ of habeas corpus, which the state constitution forbid any government official to do. The crackdown inflamed the legislature, most of whom were members of the Klan. When first elected Walton ushered in some popular reforms designed to help farmers. He also supported education and instituted a program to give free textbooks to all Oklahoma school children. A true progressive, he also prosecuted companies ignoring state regulations and he increased spending on welfare. On the negative side he appointed family and friends to government posts, some of the positions being unnecessary. There were also suggestions he took bribes for political favors and his distractors accused him of Socialism. He made enough enemies in his short reign that the impeachment charges were easily passed.

It is uncertain what his greatest crime was, his role as a corrupt politician or being anti-Klan.

 1984 – San Juanico, Mexico disaster. Located just outside Mexico City, a liquid petroleum gas farm experienced a series of explosions that killed 500-600 people, injured 5,000-7,000 more, and destroyed much of the town. A gas cloud from a leaked tank drifted into an open flame and exploded. Over the next twelve hours subsequent eruptions followed as gas tank after gas tank exploded. It has been recorded as one of the worst industrial accidents of all time.

If this was huge news in the U.S. at the time, I have no memory of reading about it. Hard to believe that such a catastrophic event escaped my notice. Maybe those in charge of what we need to know assigned it to a back page.


1805 – Ferdinand de Lesseps. Builder of the Suez Canal. De Lesseps was a French diplomat who led the development of building a canal that connected the Red Sea and the Mediterranean. He later tried to copy that success by building a sea level canal across the Isthmus of Panama. Beset by disease (yellow fever and malaria) and corruption, the project was abandoned and later sold to the U.S government. In the aftermath of the failure, France prosecuted and convicted de Lesseps of misuse of funds.

I’ve read “Path Between the Seas” by David McCullough and he documents what began as a noble attempt by de Lesseps eventually turning into a huge Ponzi scheme.

 1831 – James Garfield. 20th President of the United States. A successful Union general in the Civil War, Lincoln convinced him to resign his commission and run for the House of Representatives. Lincoln remarked that it was easier to find major generals than loyal Republican congressmen. From Ohio, he served nine terms in the House before winning the 1880 Republican nomination. His first order of business upon being elected was to fight corruption and bring back prestige to the Presidency. After only two hundred days in office he was assassinated.

The beginning of an effective presidency cut short by an assassin’s bullet. The great American tradition of bullets over brains, now backed by the NRA, goes back a long ways.

 1938 – Ted Turner. Media mogul, billionaire and philanthropist, Turner founded the 24 hour TV news channel CNN. He also owns the Atlanta Braves baseball team.

Despite his charitable giving of untold millions to good causes, my image of him is more negative. In the 1991 World Series, inarguably the greatest World Series ever played, I remember him sitting in the stands, with his movie star wife, doing the racially offensive and insulting “tomahawk chop.” Justice was served, at least to me, in that the Minnesota Twins prevailed over the Atlanta Braves.



This Day in History

November 14th

1942 – Naval Battle of Guadalcanal. The fighting, mostly at night, was a series of sea battles from November 12th to November 15th. The action on the 14th & 15th is sometimes called the Second Battle of Guadalcanal. The Japanese force was comprised of a battleship, four cruisers and nine destroyers. The U.S. fleet, reeling from heavy loses in the first few days of fighting, countered with a scratched together force of the battleships USS South Dakota, USS Washington, and four destroyers. Action commenced around 2200 on the night of the 14th. Shells exploding and ships blowing up lit the night sky with fire. A war correspondent’s description: “From the beach it resembled a door to hell opening and closing… over and over.” Hundreds of Japanese and American sailors lost their lives in the fighting. Sailors named the area where the fighting took place Ironbottom Sound became because so many ships were sunk there.

Despite being outmanned the Americans emerged victorious. The Japanese lost their battleship, two cruisers, and three destroyers. The American losses were all four destroyers and the South Dakota was badly damaged but remained floating. The result was that the Japanese were unable to send in fresh troops as reinforcements in the fight against the marines desperately holding onto Henderson Field. Historian Eric Hammel sums up the significance of the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal this way: “On November 12, 1942, the (Japanese) Imperial Navy had the better ships and the better tactics. After November 15, 1942, its leaders lost heart and it lacked the strategic depth to face the burgeoning U.S. Navy and its vastly improving weapons and tactics. The Japanese never got better while, after November 1942, the U.S. Navy never stopped getting better.”

My generation of sailors was trained by the generation that fought WWII. It is said that the military trains for the last war, not the next one. Although we didn’t know it, ship versus ship battles were a thing of the past by the time I was in the Navy. After Guadalcanal there would only be one more time that battleships would square off in WWII, and probably history.

If anybody wants to read a riveting account of the sea battles at Guadalcanal, check out “Neptune’s Inferno”.

1972 – Dow Jones closes over 1,000. For the first time in history the Dow closes above 1,000 points.

How quaint.

 1982 – Lech Walesa freed. Public outcry forced the Polish government to release the popular labor leader. Walesa was chairman of Solidarity, a federation of unions composed of workers and farmers. Solidarity led strikes in Poland until the Communist government declared martial law and the organization illegal. Walesa was arrested and confined for eleven months. The union was eventually successful and Poland experienced more political and religious freedom.

Walesa received the 1983 Nobel Peace Prize. In 1989 Solidarity was legalized and in 1990 Walesa was elected President of Poland. He was defeated for reelection by a Communist candidate in 1995.

A union man, a man who stood with the worker, a man who helped bring about the fall of the Iron Curtain, Walesa was, to me anyway, an inspiration and a hero.


1889 – Jawaharlal Nehru. The first Prime Minister of India, he served in that capacity from 1947 to 1964 when he died. He joined the Indian National Congress in 1919 and was an early follower of Gandhi in India’s fight for independence from Britain. Protesting against British rule landed him in jail for a total of nine years. As Prime Minister Nehru advocated for secularism, democratic socialism, free education for children, civil rights for women, and he challenged the caste system. He led India at a very turbulent time as it emerged from being a colonial state to a free nation. His daughter, Indira, and his grandson, Rajiv, both later served as Prime Ministers of India.

It is both a testament to the two men, and also somewhat sad, that the only two names most can associate with India are Gandhi and Nehru.

 1908 – Joseph McCarthy. A Senator from Wisconsin, he led an “investigation” into his own charge that Communists had infiltrated the U.S. government. His crusade was described as a witch hunt by his distractors, and that group eventually included just about everybody. His interrogation tactics during public hearings included bullying and browbeating and came to be known as “McCarthyism.” He projected himself as a true patriot and he saw communists everywhere, including Hollywood. He destroyed people, ruined careers and built paranoia. A Hollywood blacklist was created that included directors, actors and screenwriters. Guilt could merely be by association. McCarthy’s undoing was when he went after supposed communists in the U.S. Army. The hearings were televised and the public saw his vicious tactics live and public opinion turned against him. In one of the more famous rebuttals, Joseph Nye, special counsel for the Army, said. “Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last? Have you left no sense of decency?”

It seems bullying, insults and intimidation have re-emerged in the current political sphere. A sense of decency should again be demanded…by the American public if the politicians lack the courage.


1948 – Prince Charles. Heir to the throne of England who had a brief, non-speaking role in the Princess Diana stage drama.

I’ve gotten a few lucky breaks in life, like not having been born a prince.



This Day in History

For any long time readers this post is a rerun from a year ago. I’m posting it again for any recent subscriptions.

November 13th

1775 – “Continental Army Brigadier General Richard Montgomery takes Montreal, Canada. Montgomery’s victory owed its success in part to Ethan Allen’s disorganized defeat at the hand of British General and Canadian Royal Governor Guy Carleton at Montreal on September 24, 1775. Allen’s misguided and undermanned attack on Montreal led to his capture. Although a failure in the short term, Allen’s attack had long-term benefits for the Patriots. Carleton had focused his attention on suppressing Allen’s attack, while refusing reinforcements to Fort St. Jean, to which Montgomery’s expedition laid siege from August 21 to November 3, 1775. Fort St. Jean’s commander surrendered on November 3, fearful of the hardship the town’s civilians would face during a winter under siege. With the final fortification between Montgomery and Montreal in Patriot hands and Carleton’s defenses depleted by the conflict with Allen, Montgomery’s forces entered Montreal with ease on November 13.” (1)

On December 31st, Montgomery and Carleton’s forces battled at Quebec and the Americans were defeated, assuring that Canada would remain part of the British Empire.

I hadn’t known the U.S. was that close to having had Canada as part of our nation. That would have been one huge nation. And we wouldn’t have to worry about eventually building a wall to keep all those Canucks from sneaking across the border.

 1789 – Benjamin Franklin’s famous quote of “Nothing is certain…except death and taxes” is uttered.

Well, the part about taxes apparently isn’t true any longer. The rich maintain there is nothing illegal about it, all they are doing is taking advantage of existing loopholes. And lobbying to keep those loopholes in place. It must be galling to the rich that, despite all their money, lobbying has no effect on the other half of Franklin’s famous quote.

 1969 – Vice President Spiro Agnew’s speech criticizing the television networks and network commentators.   It was the famous speech where he used the weirdly crafted phrases of “effete intellectual snobs” and “nattering nabobs of negativity.” It was the first salvo fired at the media for being biased.

A very effective salvo in fact. It laid the groundwork for what is now the generally accepted concept and term “liberal media.” It was genius in the making, the laying of seeds questioning the media’s intent, especially when a conservative administration is being criticized.

Now I’m not a lockstep admirer of the mainstream media. I am highly critical of its performance. While I think there is a lot of sloppy journalism taking place, I do not think it has a left-leaning bias. I think it has more of a money-leaning bias. The story that might have the most importance is set aside for the story that might draw the most viewers/readers. Trump’s presidency speaks to that. During the Republican primaries and the presidential campaign, he was a marketing department’s wet dream at the expense of a more serious analysis of the issues.

Just remember, this whole liberal bias began with the media being critical of the U.S.’s involvement in Vietnam. And at the time the questioning of the war was based more on fact than bias.



1833 – Edwin Booth -The brother of John Wilkes Booth, Edwin was also an actor, a more famous and successful one.  The brothers had different poltical views with Edwin loyal to the Union and John an avowed secessionist.  On April 14, 1865, John Wilkes Booth assassinated President Lincoln in at the Ford Theater. In what seems like more than a mere coincidence, Edwin Booth had earlier saved the life of Abraham Lincoln’s son, Robert Todd Lincoln. Robert Lincoln lost his balance on a train platform and  Booth grabbed his jacket collar thereby pulling him from the path of the oncoming train. Further coincidences: Robert Todd Lincoln was witness to three presidential assassinations. Besides being present at his father’s deathbed, he was with James Garfield in 1881 in Washington DC and William McKinley in 1901 in Buffalo, NY when they were shot.

I’m starting to wonder if coincidences are in fact coincidental, or is it synchronicity? A brief explanation of synchronicity. That is when the boundary dissolves between the inner and the outer. One of those moments in which there is a fissure in the fabric of what we have taken for reality and instead there is a bleed through from a higher dimension outside of time. I may address this in more depth at some future time.

1869 – Helene Stöcker – An early leader in the fight for women’s rights. She believed women should have control over their own bodies. A native of Germany, Stöcker became the head of the League for the Protection of Mothers  in 1905. “One attack common to many feminist groups of the time was the accusation that they promoted “free love.” While the focus of the group was traditional heterosexual relationships, they insisted on the need for equality between men and women in marriage, but also legal recognition of what they called “free relationships,” which included not only support for single mothers, but homosexuality, and the right to divorce.” (2)

Beginning during WWI, Helene shifted much of her energy to the Peace movement. She was involved in the founding of an organization known as War Resisters’ International that still exists During WWII she fled Germany and eventually came to the U.S. where she died in 1943.

If she lived in today’s world, one doesn’t have to wonder too much what she would have thought of Trump. Or what Trump would have thought of her.

1920 – Jack Elam – The actor with the lazy, wandering left eye, the result of a childhood accident. He played the heavy in many westerns, and later turned to comedy.

One of my guilty pleasure is re-watching him and James Garner in “Support Your Local Sheriff.”




This Day in History

November 8th

1864 – Lincoln elected to 2nd term. He defeated George McClellan, by getting 55% of the vote. McClellan, former general and head of the Army of the Potomac, was highly critical of Lincoln. Lincoln was equally critical of McClellan, having relieved him of duty for failing to take the fight to the Confederacy. The vote signaled that the Union was not willing to negotiate any end to the war. That an election took place at all was significant. It was the first time a nation had held an open election during a military struggle.

Lincoln said, “We can not have free government without elections; and if the rebellion could force us to forego, or postpone a national election, it might fairly claim to have already conquered and ruined us.”

If the time comes, because of a national emergency, an elected official claims their importance trumps the need for an election, for the sake of our democracy, don’t listen.

 1892 – Grover Cleveland elected president for the 2nd time. He is the only president to serve non-consecutive terms. A Democrat, he was helped elected by reform Republicans known as Mugwumps. (Great name) Cleveland wasn’t against angering people while in office. He was against the government giving aid to any economic group, vetoed a veterans benefits bill supported by the Grand Army of the Republic, forced the railroads to return 81 million acres of public land that had been given to them, imposed more federal regulations on the railroads but also sent federal troops to quell a strike by railroad workers in Chicago. He once said, “What is the use of being elected or re-elected unless you stand for something?” He seemed to have both admirable, and not so admirable, qualities. During the Civil War he paid a Polish immigrant to serve in his place.

It was a legal avoidance of duty at the time. Not all that different than having bone spurs.

 1932 – Franklin Delano Roosevelt elected for 1st time. In the midst of the Great Depression the country turned away from Republican Herbert Hoover and elected the charismatic Democrat. FDR responded by creating a number of government programs designed to put Americans back to work and stabilize the economy. The programs had some success but it wasn’t until America’s entry into WWII that it finally escaped from the effects of the Depression. Throughout the Depression and war years Roosevelt was a dynamic leader. Not all his ideas were great however. He wanted to increase the size of the Supreme Court so he could stack it with liberals. His own party controlled Congress at that time and they were the ones who decreed it was a bad idea.

A political party standing up to its own leader? Now there’s a principled stance that could bear recycling.


1908 – Martha Gellhorn. Writer and journalist, Gellhorn is recognized as one of the greatest war correspondents of any era. She was also one of the first female war correspondents ever. For over sixty years she covered conflicts around the globe. Her first assignment was in the 1930’s for the Spanish Civil War and her last was in the 1989 U.S. invasion of Panama. Incidentally, she was the third wife of Ernest Hemingway. But any focus on that fact annoyed her. As she put it once, “I’ve been a writer for over 40 years. I was a writer before I met him and I was a writer after I left him. Why should I be merely a footnote in his life?” From “She was a reporter who wrote about injustice and the hard lives of ordinary people, and it was as such, and only as such, that she wished to be known.” (1)

Her ill-fated marriage, however much she resented talking about it, was a fact of her life. I read an autobiographical account of a trip she took to China during WWII with Hemingway. She never once used his name, instead settling on references such as: The man I was traveling with, or my husband at the time.

 1922 – Christiaan Barnard. The first surgeon to perform a human heart transplant. The medical history making surgery was performed in South Africa in 1967. It was an astounding accomplishment and received worldwide recognition. There was some Minnesota local pride also in that Barnard went to the University of Minnesota’s medical school for two years to improve his surgical skills.

As commonplace as transplants are now, it was unbelievable news at the time. I was in college then and it was another of those 1960’s moments when there was a recognition that the world was changing in a significant manner.

 1954 – Michael Brown. Head of FEMA when Hurricane Katrina hit. Brown was widely criticized for his role in the Bush Administration’s poor handling of the natural disaster in 2004. Brown resigned from FEMA in 2005 and is currently a radio show talk host in Denver, Colorado.

Helluva job, Brownie.



This Day in History

November 4th

1646 – Massachusetts Bay Colony passes death penalty law making it illegal to deny bible. “The Puritans did not strictly combine church and state. They recognized that church and state had different purposes–one was for the salvation of souls; the other was for the preservation of society through justice. Both, however, had their source in God, and both should look to the Bible as the source for standards, direction, and guidance. For the Puritans, it was unthinkable that the teachings of the Bible were meant to deal only with a narrow religious sphere. They believed the Scriptures provided the rule and guidance for all of life–government, economics, education, church, family, and morals. And so, on this day, November 4, 1646 the Massachusetts Puritans passed a law prohibiting their people from denying that the Bible is the Word of God. The penalty for persistence in this error was death. The same act also set a fine of five shillings for failing to attend church on Sunday.” (1)

Instituting a death penalty for denying the bible hardly seems like separation between church and state.

 1921 – Japan’s Prime Minister, Hara Takashi, assassinated. Takashi was the first commoner appointed Prime Minister. His radical views put him at odds with the established class. He thought positions within the bureaucracy should be filled with those with proper qualifications rather than because of favors or connections. (Radical indeed) Once in office Takashi’s liberal supporters were also disappointed with him for not moving fast enough. He was stabbed to death in the Tokyo Station by a fanatical right-wing railroad switchman.

Oddly enough he was the first of two Prime Ministers to be assassinated in the Tokyo railroad station. Prime Minister Osachi was shot there in 1931. There is a spot on the station floor commemorating where each man fell.

A spot on the floor…Well, I guess it is better than having a condo complex covering everything up.

 1980 – Ronald Reagan elected President. A popular Republican president who was in power when the Iron Curtain, and the USSR, crumbled. Reagan also slashed taxes to the rich and introduced the “trickle down” theory: If the rich have more capital it will trickle down to the rest of us. A future President, George Bush Sr., called it “voodoo economics.”

I was not a fan of Reagan but at least back then there was a civility in government that no longer exists. Rumor has it that Tip O’Neil, Speaker of the House and a Democrat, would go to the Oval Office at the end of the day and have a drink with President Reagan. It seems a better way to promote policy than issuing insults and taunts.


 1740 – Augustus Montague Toplady. Besides having a wonderful name, he was a hymn writer. The most well known, and enduring, is “Rock of Ages.” Toplady was born in England and his father was an officer in the Royal Marines. Odd coincidental side note, Toplady’s father fought in the War of Jenkins’ Ear. (See October 30th post) A Calvinist, Toplady was only 23 years old when he wrote his most famous hymn.

Attending St. Paul’s Lutheran Church as a child, most of the hymns we sung were slow, painful dirges. My two favorites however were “What A Friend We Have in Jesus,” and “Rock of Ages”. I had a tad more spirituality on the Sundays when either of those songs was selected.

1876 – James Earle Fraser. A sculptor by profession, he designed the Buffalo Nickel. Also known as the Indian Head Nickel, it was minted from 1913 to 1938. Fraser was born in Winona, Minnesota and grew up on the plains of South Dakota. He was aware of the vanished buffalo herds and the removal of Native Americans to reservations. At age 14 he was taking classes at the Art Institute of Chicago and by age 18 he produced the famous “The End of the Trail” sculpture, a slumping, tired Indian mounted on an equally tired horse. Fraser used three different Indians as models for his nickel design, one of whom was Chief Two Moons who had fought at Little Big Horn.

When the coin was minted there were only about a thousand buffalo left. The popularity of the coin created a renewed interest in the buffalo and was somewhat credited with keeping that species from becoming extinct.

I remember still seeing some of those coins when I was a kid. Not being a coin collector I probably exchanged a Buffalo Head nickel for a Fudgesicle.

 1916 – Walter Cronkite. Journalist and anchor of the CBS Evening News. Working for UPI (United Press International) during WWII, he covered the bombing of London, the North African campaign, the landing at Normandy, and after the war, the Nuremberg Trials. He helped start CBS News and from 1962 to 1981 he was the anchorman for the biggest stories including JFK’s assassination, the Vietnam War, urban race riots, Watergate, and the space age. At one point he was called the most trusted man in America. When he dropped his objectivity and criticized the Vietnam War President Johnson famously said, “If I’ve lost Cronkite, I’ve lost Middle America.”

In this day and age Cronkite would probably be accused of promoting “Fake News.”



This Day in History

October 30th

1340 – Battle of Rio Salado. A Moorish army was defeated by combined Christian forces from Portugal and Castile. The battle was fought in the Granada region and was the last Muslim attempt to re-establish itself on the Iberian Peninsula. The Christian forces were harsh in victory, killing many prisoners including some of the sultan’s wives.

The significance of this battle was…hmm, I’m not sure. Other than determining some real estate boundaries not all that much was settled. We’re still dealing with whose god is better. Or is it really about real estate rather than religion?

 1739 – Britain declares war on Spain. The War of Jenkins’ Ear. A Spanish privateer boarded a British brig and cut off the ear of its captain, Robert Jenkins. Britain took umbrage at this callous act. The war was significant in that it determined the fate of the colony of Georgia, whether it would be English or Spanish. It also marked the first time that colonial troops, Oglethorpe’s Regiment, fought for Great Britain. The war eventually morphed into the War of Austrian Succession.

There are great battle cries such as “Remember the Alamo” or “Remember Pearl Harbor.” They pale in comparison to the image of men braving bullet and bayonet, charging the rampart screaming “Remember Jenkins’ Ear!”

1941 – USS Reuben James torpedoed. “Tell me, what were their names, tell me, what were their names, did you have a friend on the good Reuben James.”

The U.S. destroyer, while on convoy duty in the North Atlantic, was sunk by a German submarine. 115 sailors lost their lives. Woody Guthrie wrote the song “Sinking of the Reuben James,” set to the tune of “Wildwood Flower.” These were the first American casualties of WWII, although the sinking took place five weeks before Pearl Harbor. The incident caused no outrage or even little notice among U.S. citizens.

They probably just assumed those guys knew what they were getting into.


1893 – Roland Freisler. Judge in Nazi Germany. He was known as Hitler’s Screaming Nazi Judge. Besides sentencing over 5,000 people to their deaths, he browbeat and insulted them while doing so. He also published a pamphlet calling for laws against sexual relations between Aryans and inferior races, or racial defilement as he called it. He was killed in an Allied bombing raid in 1945.

I don’t know if there’s any truth to the rumor that he was reincarnated as a Tiki torch.

 1907 – Sol Tax. Anthropologist best known for creating “Action Anthropology”. Instead of just studying a native people, he thought the anthropologist job was to both help develop and preserve the culture.

I included Sol mostly because of his great name. It sounds like something that could set a revolution in motion.

 1939 – Gracie Slick. Singer, songwriter and rock musician. Slick most notably performed with Jefferson Airplane during the psychedelic music era in San Francisco. An active participant in the alcohol and drug excesses of that life style, she sometimes showed up for concerts over-stimulated. She visited rehabilitation facilities on more than one occasion. On the Dick Cavett show she was purportedly to be the first person to say the word “motherfucker” on live TV. After she retired from music, she said it was sad that aging rockers continued to perform, that it wasn’t what rock was all about.

Slick was inexplicably invited to a White House luncheon while Nixon was President. Probably because she was an alumni of the same small college as Tricia Nixon. Slick brought Abbie Hoffman as a date and intended to spike Richard Nixon’s tea with LSD. The Secret Service realized who she was in time and they were prevented from entering.

That certainly ranks high in history’s what-might-have-been moments.