Friday, October 4, 2013

Today it would be "Like, like me do"

On October 4, 1962, the Beatles released "Love Me Do" on Parlophone Records. Their manager, Brian Epstein, bought 10,000 copies. The song went to the Top 20, and the Fab Five were on their way in England. In America, however, Capitol Records, who owned the rights to "Love Me Do," sold it cheap to Vee Jay Records. VJR later released it as part of an album, "Introducing the Beatles." In May 1964, "Love Me Do" became a Number-One hit in the U. S. of A.    

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Not World Serious

Event of the Month: World Series.

"A ball is man's most disastrous invention, not excluding the wheel." -- Robert Morley.

...If there was stupider game in the world than football it was golf. The last time Sully had gone out it had taken him five or six hours to go around. Billowby kept wanting to put a tournament together. The Hi-Note Classic. Sully told him he’d show up if he could drive the cart with the keg on it. And then Billowby had talked about putting in a golf machine, of all things, but had never gotten around to it. But then he still hadn’t gotten around to filling the pothole out back.  (The Misforgotten, Chapter 38.)

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Moon of the Day

Man landed on the moon on this day in 1969.

"The sun and the moon and the stars would have long ago disappeared...had they happened to be within the reach of predatory human hands." -- Havelock Ellis.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Be sure and don't move your lips when you read Proust

July 9: Romance novelist Barbara Cartland was born on this day in 1901.

"If you want to get rich from writing, write the sort of thing that's read by persons who move their lips when they're reading to themselves." -- Don Marquis.

Yesterday: French novelist Marcel Proust was born on July 10, 1871.

"I think he (Proust) was mentally defective." -- Evelyn Waugh.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

They smelled a Surratt

A blow was struck for equality on this day in 1865. Mary Surratt became the first woman executed by hanging by the federal government. She was the proprietress of a boarding house in Washington, D. C. Her son was a friend of the actor John Wilkes Booth. Those two and some other conspirators met in the house to plot the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln, which was carried out on April 14, 1865. Mary Surratt was arrested and tried for conspiracy, and sentenced to death by a military commission. Whether she was guilty is still is a controversy. She and four others were hanged on July 7. Her son, who had fled,  was found and later brought to trial, but released when the government failed to bring an indictment.

The story is the subject of an excellent 2010 movie called "The Conspirator." Robin Wright (shown in picture), the former Mrs. Sean Penn, played Mary Surratt.  

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

He'll float among the stars forever

On July 2, 1982, Larry Walters made aviation history, or infamy. Walters tied 42 helium-filled weather balloons to his lawn chair and sailed aloft from the back yard of his girlfriend's house in San Pedro, California. His plan was to enjoy a leisurely cruise across the desert, but he went straight up instead. As he lost his breath, he panicked. He tried to shoot out some of the balloons with a pellet gun he'd brought (presumably to take potshots at desert critters, etc.), but dropped the gun after hitting only seven of them. He  then called for help on his CB radio. (At least he went prepared.)

A police copter followed Walters until he flew into some power lines, blacking out a Long Beach neighborhood for a half-hour. He then crashed into a driveway.

Walters broke the world altitude record for clustered balloon flight, but it wasn't official because it was unlicensed. And the FAA fined him $1,500. He did make appearances on the Tonight Show and Letterman.

In 1993, Walters took his own life--with a gun, not by sailing off to eternity.

Sunday, June 30, 2013

It takes a lot to shake up a Russian

On June 30, 1908, either a comet or a meteorite touched down in the Vanavara neighborhood of the Stony Tunguska River in Siberia, causing one of the greatest natural catastrophes in history. The explosion devastated an area of 1,500 square miles, blowing away millions of trees, two towns, and a whole host of reindeer. The shock was felt more than 600 miles away; even so, scientists did not get around to investigating until 1927.

Friday, June 14, 2013

It's an okay old flag

On June 14, 1777, the Continental Congress approved a resolution creating a national flag. It hardly made a ripple. No one outside of the government knew about it until a blurb in a Pennsylvania newspaper mentioned it three months later.

Happy Flag Day!

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Tune in, turn on--and not your radio or TV

Put me in, Coach
On June 12, 1970, Major League pitcher Dock Ellis took a trip to the mountaintop. He pitched a no-hitter for the Pittsburgh Pirates. Fourteen years later Ellis revealed that he had realized every pitcher's dream while under the influence of LSD.

Ellis had dropped out about noon that day, under the impression that the Pirates had an off-day. When he found out there was a game and that he was scheduled to pitch, he decided, what the heck, you only go around and around once.

"I was psyched," Ellis recounted. "I thought the ball was talking to me." Despite the feat, Ellis never pitched on acid again. After he retired, he was treated for drug dependency and later ran an antidrug program in Los Angeles. He died in 2008, of cirrhosis.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Success takes drive

On June 6, 1933, Richard Hollingsworth opened the world's first drive-in movie theater, in Camden, New Jersey. More than 600 people drove in, at 25 cents a head plus 25 cents per car, to see Wives Beware, starring Adolphe Menjou.  

Hollingsworth had come up with the idea some years before, when he took some friends outside to show them home movies, because it was too hot indoors. He set up his projector atop his Model A and showed his movies on a sheet draped from his garage door. It was a hit. His first impulse was to show movies at gas stations, but he found that gas-station owners wouldn't pay for it. So he built his own theater, which featured ramps that tilted cars up so that people could see over the cars in front of them.

Relevant trivia:  Adolphe Menjou had earlier starred in the movies Road Show, A Kiss in the Dark, and Open All Night.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

I can see queerly now

On May 23, 1785, Ben Franklin wrote from France to a friend of his, "I have only to move my eyes up and down as I want to see distinctly far and near." Old Ben was describing his latest invention, bifocal glasses. His glasses consisted of a frame with lenses in two parts, each with different focusing powers. Eyeglass frames had been invented in London in 1727.

Not many citizens in the colonies wore glasses of any sort, as they cost about $100.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Somewhere, across the ocean

On May 20, 1932, Amelia Earhart flew solo across the Atlantic, five years to the day after Lindbergh's flight.  She was not only the first woman to do it solo, she was also the first person to cross the Atlantic twice. Her time of flight beat a 13-year record set by two British fliers.

Earhart disappeared in 1937 while attempting to be the first person to fly around the world.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Russelling, part 2

Bertrand Russell’s 140th birthday was yesterday. (See yesterday’s entry.)
   “I am as firmly convinced that religions do harm as I am that they are untrue,” Russell wrote. “I think all the great religions of the world—Buddhism, Hinduism, Christianity, Islam—both untrue and harmful.” 
The problem with religion, Russell thought, was that it was based on faith instead of evidence. “A habit of basing convictions on evidence,” he wrote, “…would, if it became general, cure most of the ills from which the world is suffering. But at present, in most countries, education aims at preventing the growth of such a habit…” (Are you listening, you purveyors of creation “science”?)
   In 1925, Russell published a small book called What I Believe. In it, he wrote that there were forces making for happiness and ones making for misery in the world, and he classed religion among the latter. He likened religion—religious dogma, that is--to a kind of armor that shielded its wearer against “the shafts of impartial evidence.”    
   “Fear is the basis of religious dogma,” he wrote. Fear of nature gave rise to religion, and the fear of death—and life—perpetuates it. “Religion, since it has its source in terror, has dignified certain kinds of fear and made people think them not disgraceful. In this it has done mankind a great disservice: all fear is bad.” Russell said that while he didn’t welcome death, he had no terror of it, even though he denied the possibility of immortality. “Happiness is none the less true happiness because it must come to an end, nor do thought and love lose their value because they are not everlasting.”

   A major defect of religion as Russell saw it was its individualism; the defect, if it is one, is even more glaring today, when everyone claims to have a personal relationship with God. The dialogue, or duologue, between one’s soul and God was, Russell granted, at one time a thing devoutly to be wished, because to do the will of God, which led to virtue, was possible and even desirable in a society dominated by the state.
   “This individualism of the separate soul had its value at certain stages of history,” Russell insisted, “but in the modern world we need rather a social than an individual conception of welfare.”
   In short, Russell might have put it, ask not what God can do for you; ask what you can do for your God.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Russelling with religion

 Bertrand Russell, the greatest philosopher of the 20th century, was born on May 18, 1872. He is best known for his works on logic, knowledge, and mathematics; his A History of Western Philosophy is an elegant and entertaining overview of the thoughts and thinkers of the Western world from pre-Socratic times down to his day. He received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1950.
   In 1927 Russell gave a speech in London called “Why I Am Not a Christian.” He defined a Christian as one who a) believes in God and immortality, and b) believes, at the very least, that Jesus Christ was “if not divine, at least the best and wisest of men.”
   Addressing the first condition, Russell laid out some of the arguments for the existence of God. In short order he demolished:
  • The First-cause Argument. “If everything must have a cause, then God must have a cause,” Russell said. “If there can be anything without a cause, it may just as well be the world as God.”
  •  The Argument from Design. (Everything in the world has been created so that we can live in it and appreciate it, and if it weren’t made just so, we could not live in it.) “It is a most astonishing thing that people can believe that this world…should be the best that omnipotence and omniscience have been able to produce in millions of years,” Russell said.
  • The Moral Argument. (There would be no right or wrong unless God existed.) Russell pointed out that if God created both right and wrong, then there was no difference in quality or truth between the two, and therefore it became meaningless to say that God is good.
   Turning to the second condition, concerning the character of Christ, Russell first admitted that Jesus said some wonderful things, among them “Turn the other cheek,” “Judge not lest ye be judged,” and “Sell that which thou hast, and give to the poor.” But he noted that he was consistently less than wise, as he firmly believed that his second coming would happen within the lifetimes of those he was addressing. And because he believed in hell, and angrily condemned those who did not heed his warnings about eternal punishment, Russell judged Jesus to be far less than a paragon of virtue. In fact he placed Socrates and Buddha above him.
   “The Christian religion, as organized in its churches,” Russell concluded, “has been and still is the principal enemy of moral progress in the world…
   “When you hear people in church debasing themselves…it seems contemptible and not worthy of self-respecting human beings…"

     And finally:

      “A good world needs knowledge, kindliness and courage; it does not need…a fettering of the free intelligence by the words uttered long ago by ignorant men.”    

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Just the fax

The first fax service, between the cities of Paris and Lyon, France, a distance of over 200 miles, was established on this date in the year—got a guess? How about 1865, eleven years before Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone?

Better than that, the fax machine was actually patented in 1843, by Alexander Bain, a Scottish clockmaker. He called it a pantelegraph, because he envisioned it transmitting messages over telegraph lines. His invention used pendulums at each end of the line to transmit messages, and he never could them to synchronize, so he threw in the towel. 

Twenty years later, a Catholic priest named Giovanni Caselli and his partner, Gustav Froment, got the bugs out and unveiled a fax that sent messages written on ordinary paper, and could send several simultaneously. They demonstrated their device to Emperor Napoleon III of France, who liked it so much he passed a law establishing the world’s first fax service.