Monday, July 30, 2018

The OTHER War of Independence

While it’s true I may have nodded off occasionally, just now and thenin American History classokay, maybe most of the time—I'm pretty sure that most of us aren’t nearly as up to speed on America’s SECOND War of Independence as we are the first.

It turns out that The War of 1812 wasn’t just a peppy piece of music. In the early nineteenth century, Great Britain, while fighting a war with Napoleon, set up a naval blockade to cut off trade to France. The U. S. thought this was beyond annoying—it was a violation of international law. Britain—who didn’t give tuppence—seized American ships and pressed the sailors into serving in the British navy. 

Re-enactment of the War of 1812

Skirmishes erupted and turned into a rather serious war between the U.S. and Britain. At one point, the U.S. government was nearly driven into bankruptcy.

Anyway, it was during this war that Francis Scott Key, a big-shot lawyer and part-time poet, witnessed the bombardment of Ft. McHenry, Maryland. He was deeply moved to find, when the smoke cleared in the morning, "that our flag was still there.” And of course, we all know that he wrote the famous poem that later became our national anthem, “The Star Spangled Banner.” Key’s poem was set to the tune “To Anacreon in Heaven”just in case you were wondering.

Key was rather influential in the life of the young country. Notably, he contributed counsel to several high profile legal cases, such as. . .
  • the Aaron Burr conspiracy trial  (Burr tried to help Mexico overthrow the Spanish power in the Southwest)
  • the Petticoat Affair (a scandal involving an ex-barmaid and some of President Jackson’s cabinet members' wives who were given to gossip...)
  • the prosecution of Richard Lawrence (for an assassination attempt on Andrew Jackson).

Peggy Eaton, victim of malicious
gossipers in The Petticoat Affair

    While each of these (and many other) important cases were widely known in their time, it’s interesting that Francis Scott Key is best known today for none of them — but rather for penning a poem in his spare time. 

   But such is the power of words. Such is the power of art. Such is the power of one man's passion.

   All of us who scribble poems on old envelops, all who jot down images and thoughts on the backsides of receipts and electric bills — we can look to this man as a kind of patron saint. And that's why on August 1st, we say Happy Birthday to Francis Scott Key.

Francis Scott Key

      Do you know all the verses to his poem? I wish we would bring back Verse 4 to popular use.
      1.) O say can you see, by the dawn's early light,
What so proudly we hailed at the twilight's last gleaming,
Whose broad stripes and bright stars through the perilous fight,
O'er the ramparts we watched, were so gallantly streaming?
And the rockets' red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there;
O say does that star-spangled banner yet wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave?

2.) On the shore dimly seen through the mists of the deep,
Where the foe's haughty host in dread silence reposes,
What is that which the breeze, o'er the towering steep,
As it fitfully blows, half conceals, half discloses?
Now it catches the gleam of the morning's first beam,
In full glory reflected now shines in the stream:
'Tis the star-spangled banner, O long may it wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

3.) And where is that band who so vauntingly swore
That the havoc of war and the battle's confusion,
A home and a country, should leave us no more?
Their blood has washed out their foul footsteps' pollution.
No refuge could save the hireling and slave
From the terror of flight, or the gloom of the grave:
And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave,
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

4.) O thus be it ever, when freemen shall stand
Between their loved homes and the war's desolation.
Blest with vict'ry and peace, may the Heav'n rescued land
Praise the Power that hath made and preserved us a nation!
Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just,
And this be our motto: 'In God is our trust.'
And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave!

Photo Credits:
    Ships: HMS Endymion and USS President  (War of 1812)
      This work is in the public domain in its country of origin          
      and other countries and areas where the copyright term          
      is the author's life plus 70 years or less;
    Re-enactment of War of 1812--British fire on the Americans--
       Author: Peter K Burian;
    15 Star American Flag -- like the flag at Ft. McHenry --
       Author: Carl Lindberg;
       ineligible for copyright;
    Peggy Eaton -- author unknown;
       Public Domain because first publication occurred prior to January 1, 1923;
    Francis Scott Key -- author unknown,
       This work is in the public domain in its country of origin and other countries 
       and areas where the copyright term is the author's life plus 70 years or less;
    Eagle with stars -- © Can Stock Photo / lhfgraphics;
    Girl with flag -- © Can Stock Photo / lisafx.

Monday, July 23, 2018

Hate Crimes Against Mythopaths

A mythopath ( a term coined by J. R. R. Tolkien) is a person who likes stories — a person who is receptive to stories — a person who is enriched and nourished by stories. Like yours truly. And probably like you too — if you are reading this blog.

A young mythopath in training

Alas, the world is not always kind to us mythopaths. Cause, as you know, haters gonna hate.

Some of these hate crimes are committed by authors (who ought to know better).

5. Unsatisfying endings. And no, I don't mean that some beloved character dies. Sometimes that is an important part of a good story.  

The hero slays a dragon and
wins the princess.

What I'm talking about is. . . .after our gutsy hero has slain the dragon, won the princess, and learned to play Bach fugues on the harmonica, we find out that. . .
    ...surprise  it's all a dream!  
    ...government goons wipe his memory so he can never tell anyone what happened.
   ...a bomb falls or a meteor strikes and destroys every living thing, including the readers/viewers.

What is the point of the hero suffering and making choices if not to learn and grow from his experience — and by extension, for us as readers to learn and grow?

4. Changing the rules in the middle of the game. 

In the last episode of the sit-com Rosanne, the character Dan (Rosanne's husband) has died. But in the reboot of the series, he is suddenly alive again and none-the-worse for wear. 

I actually don't have a problem with this rule-change — because, after all, it's a sit-com, and it's kind of funny. But sometimes changing the rules is not so funny.

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, the Star Wars franchise licensed several writers to create novels based on the original movies. The was the Star Wars Expanded Universe. But when the movie series rebooted in the 21st century, suddenly all story lines save one were declared to be non-canonical. That leaves a lot of creative work now considered heretical and non-valid.

Contrast that with Star Trek. When they thought it would be fun to do Star Trek with younger versions of the same characters, they made the Enterprise spin off into a parallel universe — a very satisfactory sci-fi explanation, with no harm done to the original stories.

Some hate crimes are committed by strangers. Like. . .

3. Talking NEAR you. Those annoying people in the movie theaters that ignore all the warnings and talk on their cell phones or to each other. They ruin the experience for everyone within ear shot.

And some hate crimes against mythopaths are perpetrated by your friends and family.

2. Talking TO you. There's the guy who comes into the room in the last five minutes of the tv movie and demands a recap of the entire plot — so that you can't watch the ending in peace. In fact, you miss the ending altogether because you're trying to explain the whole plot to Mr. Johnny-come-lately.

And the most heinous crime of all. . . .

1. Giving spoilers. In an episode of the sit-com The Middle, Axl tortures his younger brother Brick by stealing his new Planet Nowhere book — the last book in the series. Axl then reads the last chapter and tells Brick how it ends. Cruelty indeed for a book lover like Brick.

An author or screen-writer works hard to build a story that will carry you from the beginning to the end. And the first time you read or watch a story, you deserve to experience it just as it was intended — without some know-it-all telling you, "You know, of course, that the princess dies and the frog is really the evil wizard from chapter two." Or, the best line in the movie was, "What does God want with a space ship?" 

Thanks all the same, but I'd like to experience the story, including the best line in context for myself. I can't begin to tell you how many books and movies have been ruined or diminished for me by so-called-friends who couldn't wait to share the ending with me. Thanks, Guys!

The moral of the story is: don't be a mytho-meanie. Don't ever commit one of these heinous crimes against story-lovers. Otherwise, there's a special circle of Hell where the punishment is listening to endless episodes of Lemony Snicket that never come to a resolution. 




Mythocrime doesn't pay.

Photo Credits
    Nurse Reading to a Little Girl, 1895 , Mary Cassatt

         The author died in 1926, so this work is in the 
         public domain in its country of origin and other 
         countries and areas where the copyright term 
         is the author's life plus 80 years or less.
    Bilibin dragon
         Artist: Ivan Bilibin;
         This work is in the public domain in the United States, because it 
             was in the public domain in its home country (Russia) on the 
             URAA date (January 1, 1996);
    Star Wars logo -- This image only consists of simple geometric shapes or text. It 
        does not meet the threshold of originality needed for copyright protection, 
        and is therefore in the public domain;
    Stealing popcorn in the theater:  © Can Stock Photo / Mark2121;
    Prisoners: Čeština: David Černý a ???. Akce: Vězni na Václavském náměstí, 
          Praha, 15. března 2004;
          Author: Vit Svajcr, Dobre         

Sunday, July 15, 2018

To the Moon and Back

Nineteen sixty-nine was quite a year. 

  • Richard Nixon was sworn in as the 37th President of the United States. 
  • The Beatles gave their last public performance.
  • Joe Namath was MVP of the Super Bowl that year, between the New York Jets and Baltimore Colts. The Jets won.
  • Golda Meir became the first woman prime minister of Israel.
  • Mario Puzzo published The Godfather.
  • An American teenager died in St. Louis of a puzzling disease, later determined to be the first case of AIDS in the US.
  • The movie Midnight Cowboy debuted.
Yeah, there was a lot going on that year, but 1969 will forever be remembered as the year man first walked on the Moon.

Back in 1961, President John F. Kennedy had proposed to Congress that Americans should aim for "landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth" by the end of the 1960s. And thus began the Apollo program.

July 16th, 1969: a Saturn V rocket launched Apollo 11 from Kennedy Space Center into Earth orbit.

After one and a half orbits, the third-stage engine pushed the spacecraft into a new trajectory, bound for the Moon.

July 19th: Apollo 11 passed behind the Moon and went into lunar orbit. They circled the Moon about thirty times, checking out their landing site in the Southern Sea of Tranquility.

Armstrong, Collins, and Aldrin
July 20th: The Lunar Module Eagle separated from the Command Module Columbia. Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, in the Eagle, began their descent, reporting that they were "long"--that is, overshooting their mark a bit. They would land west of their target. Meanwhile, Mike Collins navigated Columbia in lunar orbit.

Since the landing site was strewn with boulders, Armstrong took "semi-automatic" control and landed the Eagle safely. Back in Houston, Capsule Communicator Charlie Duke said, "We copy you down, Eagle."

The Earth from space

Later Aldrin radioed Planet Earth, inviting everyone witnessing these events "to pause for a moment and contemplate the events of the past few hours and to give thanks in his or her own way." Then he had a private Communion service on the Moon.

After the astronauts made their preparations for a few hours, Armstrong activated the tv camera. He began his descent down the ladder, pausing to unveil the plaque he carried: "Here men from the planet Earth first set foot upon the Moon, July, 1969 A.D. We came in peace for all mankind." After years of plans and calculations, the distance to the Moon had dwindled from about 239,000 miles to just nine steps down the ladder.

A Plaque from Planet Earth

At last Armstrong took the final step off the ladder. 

"That's one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind."

Click here to see footage--
sorry about whatever ads may pop up.....

About twenty minutes later, Aldrin joined Armstrong on the surface of the moon and described the scene as "Magnificent desolation."

Aldrin salutes the American flag on the Moon.

Man had long dreamed of going to the Moon, and on July 20th, 1969, Mankind made their first footprints in lunar dust.

It's been almost 50 years since Apollo 11 went to the Moon. When you think about everything that could have gone wrong -- and other forays into space would teach us more about that -- the Apollo 11 Lunar Landing is truly miraculous. After we had looked back at our own world from the Moon, our view of the universe and our place in it would never be the same.

The official patch for the Apollo 11 Mission

Man had long dreamed of going to the moon -- this comic 
image is from the French film Le voyage dans la lune.

President Nixon welcomes the astronauts home.

Photo Credits:
    Joe Namath in the '69 Super Bowl - This work is in the public domain 
        because it was published in the United States between 1978 and 
        March 1, 1989 without a copyright notice, and its copyright was 
        not subsequently registered with the U.S. Copyright Office within 5 years;
    Moonrise in the desert - Author: John Fowler from Placitas, NM, USA,
        File Upload Bot (Magnus Manske) (talk | contribs) 
        Transferred from Flickr by User:russavia;
    Saturn launch - This file is in the public domain in the United States 
         because it was solely created by NASA;
    Armstrong, Collins, and Aldrich - This file is in the public domain 
         in the United States because it was solely created by NASA;
    Earth from Space -  This file is in the public domain in the United States 
         because it was solely created by NASA;
    Plaque -  This file is in the public domain in the United States 
         because it was solely created by NASA;
    Aldrin salutes the flag - This file is in the public domain in the United States 
         because it was solely created by NASA;
    Apollo 11 Patch - This file is in the public domain in the United States 
         because it was solely created by NASA;
    La voyage dans la lune - Author: Georges Méliès;
        Public Domain: The author died in 1938, so this work is in the 
        public domain in its country of origin and other countries and areas 
        where the copyright term is the author's life plus 75 years or less;
    Nixon welcomes the astronauts home - This file is in the public domain 
        in the United States because it was solely created by NASA.

Monday, July 9, 2018

Some Writer: E. B. White

We all know the story of Charlotte, a talented spider who “saves the bacon” for a pig named Wilbur, in the children’s classic Charlotte’s Web, by E. B. White.

In the book Some Writer, Melissa Sweet—a Caldecott Honor Award winning artist—chronicles the life of E. B. White in a series of collages that combine letters, newspaper clippings, old photos and original manuscripts, quotations, and the enchanting illustrations of Sweet herself. This book is a masterpiece of visual storytelling.

As a child, White kept a notebook by his bed. He would write in it at bedtime—about the happenings of the dayand he would end with a question so he would have something to think about as he fell asleep. “I wonder what I’m going to be when I grow up?”

At age nine, White sent a poem to his brother Albert, a student at Cornell. Imagine his surprise when Albert submitted the poem to a contest held by Woman’s Home Companion magazine. And the poem won! He started submitting stories to St. Nicholas Illustrated Stories for Boys and Girls. In order to submit, you had to join “the League,” sponsored by St. Nicholas. Other members of the League included young William Faulkner, Rachel Carson, and Edna St. Vincent Millay. Not a bad start to a literary career—and he was still a boy.

"Andy" White, in the Cornell Yearbook

At Cornell University, White wrote for the school paper, the Cornell Sun. Fellow students gave him the nickname "Andy,"  and the name stayed with him. After university, Andy and a friend traveled West by Model-T, stopping to pay their way with small writing gigs. One ledger entry says, “Sold a sonnet for $5.00 about a horse that won the Kentucky Derby.”

When White wound up back in New York, living with his parents, he started writing for a new magazine, The New Yorkermaking $30 a week. He shared an office with James Thurber, and the two became friends. Naturally, he had to do other odd jobs to make ends meet.

In time, Andy married Katharine Angeli, another writer at The New Yorker, and they started a family. It was Andy's idea that they should move away from the city to Maine and work and write from there.

Andy wrote an essay about children's books that caught the eye of Theodore Geisel (Dr. Seuss), who sent it on to children's librarian Anne Carroll Moore. Moore wrote to Andy, urging him to write a children's book. And thus was born Stuart Little, White's first book for children.

Andy told his editor, the story "would seem to be for children, but I'm not fussy who reads it." By publishing this book, Andy said he learned that "children can sail easily over the fence that separates reality from make-believe. A fence that can throw a librarian is nothing to a child." And just reading this quote helps me to understand that I am more of a child than a librarian.

While they lived on a farm in Maine, Andy was deeply moved by the death of a pig. He decided that someday he wanted to write a book about saving a pig's life.

Later, after watching a spider's eggs hatch, Andy began to wonder if perhaps a spider could save a pig. And I think that after reading his next children's bookCharlotte's Webwe all know the answer to that question.

White would go on to write The Trumpet of the Swan for children and an updated edition of The Elements of Style, originally written by his college professor, William Strunk, Jr. And what better writer could tackle this task, to create a handbook for careful writers everywhere!

E. B. White

After Charlotte's passing in Charlotte's Web, Wilbur says: "It is not often that someone comes along who is a true friend and a good writer. Charlotte was both.” After reading Some Writer: the Story of E. B. White, I feel like Andy White was both a true friend and a good writer. He was indeed some writer!

Photo Credits:
   Pig in blue circle - Author: LadyofHats - This work has been released into 
          the public domain by its author, LadyofHats. This applies worldwide;
   St. Nicholas magazine - Author: Dodge, Mary Mapes - At the time of upload, 
          the image license was automatically confirmed using the Flickr API;
   Cornell senior photo - This media file is in the public domain in the United States. 
          This applies to U.S. works where the copyright has expired, often 
          because its first publication occurred prior to January 1, 1923;
   New Yorker logo - Public domain: This image only consists of simple geometric 
          shapes or text. It does not meet the threshold of originality needed for 
          copyright protection;
   Pig clipart - Author: LadyofHats - This work has been released into the public 
          domain by its author, LadyofHats. This applies worldwide;
   Spider web with dew - Author: Taken or created by Fir0002;
   E. B. White - from a family photograph, derivative work: —Eustress talk