October 31, 2006

Quick Historical Note: For all you sleuths!


Today, in 1887, the first Sherlock Holmes collection was published: The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes.

Basil Rathbone starred in a film adaptation.


I should run out and find a pipe and a deerstalker.

Posted by Random Penseur at 01:29 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

March 21, 2006

Archeology Today: Homeric Sarcophagus Found

I love these kinds of stories. An ancient sarcophagus has been found in Cyrpus. The 2,500 year old burial vessel bears "vivid color illustrations from Homer's epics". I understand from the article that it is the best one of these ever discovered, that the other two -- in museums in London and New York -- are not as colorful.


[T]he coffin painted in red, black and blue on a white background dated to 500 B.C., when Greek cultural influence was gaining a firm hold on the eastern Mediterranean island. Pottery discovered in the tomb is expected to provide a precise date.

Experts believe the ornate decoration features the hero Ulysses in scenes from Homer's Iliad and Odyssey both hugely popular throughout the Greek world.

In one large painting, Ulysses and his comrades escape from the blind Cyclops Polyphemos' cave, hidden under a flock of sheep. Another depicts a battle between Greeks and Trojans from the Iliad.

Just in case the article link expires, I reproduce the whole of it in extended entry.

Ancient Sarcophagus Unearthed in Cyprus
Ancient Sarcophagus With Vivid Color Illustrations From Homer's Poems Unearthed in Cyprus
The Associated Press
NICOSIA, Cyprus - A 2,500-year-old sarcophagus with vivid color illustrations from Homer's epics has been discovered in western Cyprus, archaeologists said Monday.

Construction workers found the limestone sarcophagus last week in a tomb near the village of Kouklia, in the coastal Paphos area. The tomb, which probably belonged to an ancient warrior, had been looted during antiquity.

"The style of the decoration is unique, not so much from an artistic point of view, but for the subject and the colors used," said Pavlos Flourentzos, director of the island's antiquities department.

Only two similar sarcophagi have ever been discovered in Cyprus before. One is housed in New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art and the other in the British Museum in London, but their colors are more faded, Flourentzos said.

Flourentzos said the coffin painted in red, black and blue on a white background dated to 500 B.C., when Greek cultural influence was gaining a firm hold on the eastern Mediterranean island. Pottery discovered in the tomb is expected to provide a precise date.

Experts believe the ornate decoration features the hero Ulysses in scenes from Homer's Iliad and Odyssey both hugely popular throughout the Greek world.

In one large painting, Ulysses and his comrades escape from the blind Cyclops Polyphemos' cave, hidden under a flock of sheep. Another depicts a battle between Greeks and Trojans from the Iliad.

Archeologists think the scenes hint at the status of the coffin's occupant.

"Why else take these two pieces from Homer and why deal with Ulysses? Maybe this represents the dead person's character who possibly was a warrior," Flourentzos said.

Other drawings depict a figure carrying a seriously injured or dead man and a lion fighting a wild boar under a tree. These are not believed to be linked with Homer's poems.

Reflecting a long oral tradition loosely based on historic events, Homer's epics were probably composed around 800 B.C. and written down in the 6th century B.C.

The tomb was found in an area containing several ancient cemeteries which belonged to the nearby town of Palaepaphos, 11 miles inland from modern Paphos.

First settled around 2800 B.C., Palaepaphos was the site of a temple of Aphrodite the ancient goddess of beauty who, according to mythology, was born in the sea off Paphos.

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August 09, 2005

Today in History

Been awhile since I've done one of these but there were lots of interesting things to note, so:

Births, today, in

*1593 Izaak Walton, a name known to anyone who ever picked up a fly fishing rod. He wrote the Compleat Angler in 1653 or thereabouts.

*1930 Betty Boop born in in Max Fleischer's animated cartoon Dizzy Dishes.

*1938 Rocket Rod Laver, one of the greatest Australian tennis players, winning the Grand Slam in 1962 and 1969. He also never lost at Davis Cup play.

Events, today, in

*BC 480 Persian forces of hundreds of thousands defeat Greek forces of 7000 led by Spartan king Leonidas and 300 other Spartans at the Hot Gates of Thermopylae. The Spartans were wiped out to a man but caused huge casualties among the Persians. The epitaph remains:

Go tell the Spartans, stranger passing by, that here, obedient to their laws, we lie.

*378 Battle of Adrianople (with nice diagrams), the surprise arrival of the Visigoth heavy calvary defeats Roman Army, setting the stage for the end of the Roman Empire.

*1638 Jonas Bronck (link is to cool page on history of the Bronx) becomes the first European settler in what later becomes known as "da Bronx". Always, "the", by the way, the only borough in New York City to be named that way.

*1854 Henry David Thoreau publishes his essay, "Walden", on his time spent on Walden Pond in his cabin:


*1902 Edward VII crowned King of England after death of his mother, Queen Victoria. The Victorian age ended.

*1936 Jesse Owens wins his fourth gold medal of the 1936 Berlin Olympics, making Hitler crazy. See article at ESPN on Owens. Owens died from lung cancer after smoking a pack a day for much of his life. I note that Owens, America's greatest track star, never denied taking steroids (whether he was asked is, of course, besides the point).

*1945 US drops the second atomic bomb ("Fat Man") on Japan and destroys part of Nagasaki.

*1965 Singapore gains independence from Malaysia. Celebrates National Day. See message from Prime Minister here.

*1974 Richard Nixon (bio from Nixon Foundation website), our only Quaker president, resigns presidency in wake of Watergate. Gerald Ford takes over "under extraordinary circumstances". I've been to Ford's museum in Grand Rapids. Not too bad, but I really hate Grand Rapids.

Posted by Random Penseur at 10:28 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

May 23, 2005

History Today: Annotated

Lacking inspiration after an entire weekend spent in the office, I give you my annotated Today in History post.

Today the following people were born:

*1707 Carolus, or Carl, Linnæus. I can't find a link about him I like, so I will content myself with a very brief description. He was a Swedish botanist, known as the "Father of Taxonomy" because he created the system by which, scientifically, plants and animals are named and organized.

*1795 Charles Barry, the architect of the Westminister Palace (Houses of Parliament in London). Barry also designed the Reform Club, in London, where I had the pleasure of drinking a bottle of Champagne (Reform Club Champagne, said so on the label) on the second floor overlooking the grand, interior courtyard. In the below picture, there are now tables along the railings. A very pleasant place to sit, drink, and converse.


The building is really quite magnificent. The Reform was also the place from where Jules Verne had Philleas Fogg begin his journey, Around the World in 80 Days.

*1848 Helmuth von Moltke, the German Army Chief of staff in World War I, until relieved for poor leadership. The war started under his watch.

*1883 Douglas Fairbanks, actor and husband of Mary Pickford. The first King of Hollywood, some say.

*1910 Artie Shaw, the "King of Swing", born Arthur Jacob Arshawsky in New York. Shaw was the iconic bandleader in the 1930's.

Shaw could scarcely have known that within a short time he would make a hit record of a song called Begin the Beguine, which he now jokingly refers to as "a nice little tune from one of Cole Porter's very few flop shows." Shortly before that he had hired Billie Holiday as his band vocalist (the first white band leader to employ a black female singer as a full-time member of his band), and within a year after the release of Beguine, the Artie Shaw Orchestra was earning as much as $60,000 weekly -- a figure that would nowadays amount to more than $600,000 a week!

By the way, Shaw gave all that up after Pearl Harbor when he signed up for the US Navy.

Deaths today, include:

*1498 Girolamo Savonarola was burned at the stake in Florence. He is a curious character. He was a fiery preacher who denounced the excesses of the Renaissance and who came to dominate Florence in 1494, banning gambling and taverns and making sodomy a capital offence. He created the "bonfires of the vanities" in which paintings and books were burned.

1881 Kit Carson "trapper, scout, Indian agent, soldier and authentic legend of the West".

*1906 Henrik Ibsen (link is to interesting essay on Norwegian Foreign Ministry website), Norwegian playwright, dies at 78. If you can read Norwegian, and even if you can't, I suppose, here is an interesting chronology of his life. And here is an excellent biographical sketch.

*1934 Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow were shot to death by police in Shreveport, LA. The FBI site makes for interesting reading on these bank robbers.

Today, some of the following things happened:

*1618 The Second Defenestration of Prague when the two Roman Catholic Governors, and their scribe, were tried, found guilty of violating the law granting freedom of religion to Protestants, and thrown from the window of Prague Castle into a pile of manure. This marked the beginning of the 30 Years War. "The Roman Catholic officials claimed that they survived because of the mercy of benevolent angels assisting the righteousness of the Catholic cause. The Protestants claimed the officials survived because they landed in horse manure." Source. I've been to Prague Castle, many years ago, and it is quite beautiful.

*1701 Captain William Kidd (great bio of his time in New York at link) was hung in London following his conviction for piracy and murder (more info here).

*1911 New York Public Library building at 5th Avenue dedicated by President Taft.

Posted by Random Penseur at 10:10 AM | Comments (3)

April 19, 2005

From King of Spain to Earl of Perth Amboy?

Ok, not really the Earl of Perth Amboy or the Duke of Newark or the Lord of Trenton, but the Count de Survilliers. Today's history link points to the historical oddity of the former King of Spain, Joseph Bonaparte, coming to live in exile in New Jersey in 1816 at the conclusion of the Napoleonic Wars. Yes, that Napoleon was Joe's (we can call him Joe since he moved to New Jersey and, in fact, we can probably call him Joey if we feel like it) brother. Joey Bonaparte (damn, that has a ring to it) lived in Burlington County, New Jersey at Point Breeze in a stunning sounding estate, furnished with the spoils of aristocratic collections he had looted while his brother raped Europe. The paintings he brought with him included works by Murillo, Rubens, Canaletto, Velasquez, Snyders, Rembrandt, da Vinci, Gerard and Vernet. After he died, the paintings and the contents of his estate were all auctioned off.

There is an excellent link to the whole story here, so good, in fact, that I don't really think I have anything to add.

That said, who knew New Jersey played host to Napoleon's older brother? Very interesting.

Go here and see some of the artifacts from the sale of the estate.

Posted by Random Penseur at 09:56 AM | Comments (2)

April 18, 2005

What's old is new again

A trove of over 40,000 classical texts, unreadable for more than a century, may now be readable.

Now, in a breakthrough described as the classical equivalent of finding the holy grail, Oxford University scientists have employed infra-red technology to open up the hoard, known as the Oxyrhynchus Papyri, and with it the prospect that hundreds of lost Greek comedies, tragedies and epic poems will soon be revealed.

In the past four days alone, Oxford's classicists have used it to make a series of astonishing discoveries, including writing by Sophocles, Euripides, Hesiod and other literary giants of the ancient world, lost for millennia. They even believe they are likely to find lost Christian gospels, the originals of which were written around the time of the earliest books of the New Testament.

The original papyrus documents, discovered in an ancient rubbish dump in central Egypt, are often meaningless to the naked eye - decayed, worm-eaten and blackened by the passage of time. But scientists using the new photographic technique, developed from satellite imaging, are bringing the original writing back into view. Academics have hailed it as a development which could lead to a 20 per cent increase in the number of great Greek and Roman works in existence. Some are even predicting a "second Renaissance".

* * *

The papyrus fragments were discovered in historic dumps outside the Graeco-Egyptian town of Oxyrhynchus ("city of the sharp-nosed fish") in central Egypt at the end of the 19th century. Running to 400,000 fragments, stored in 800 boxes at Oxford's Sackler Library, it is the biggest hoard of classical manuscripts in the world.

The previously unknown texts, read for the first time last week, include parts of a long-lost tragedy - the Epigonoi ("Progeny") by the 5th-century BC Greek playwright Sophocles; part of a lost novel by the 2nd-century Greek writer Lucian; unknown material by Euripides; mythological poetry by the 1st-century BC Greek poet Parthenios; work by the 7th-century BC poet Hesiod; and an epic poem by Archilochos, a 7th-century successor of Homer, describing events leading up to the Trojan War. Additional material from Hesiod, Euripides and Sophocles almost certainly await discovery.

Oxford academics have been working alongside infra-red specialists from Brigham Young University, Utah. Their operation is likely to increase the number of great literary works fully or partially surviving from the ancient Greek world by up to a fifth. It could easily double the surviving body of lesser work - the pulp fiction and sitcoms of the day.

* * *

Speaker A: . . . gobbling the whole, sharpening the flashing iron.

Speaker B: And the helmets are shaking their purple-dyed crests, and for the wearers of breast-plates the weavers are striking up the wise shuttle's songs, that wakes up those who are asleep.

Speaker A: And he is gluing together the chariot's rail.

These words were written by the Greek dramatist Sophocles, and are the only known fragment we have of his lost play Epigonoi (literally "The Progeny"), the story of the siege of Thebes. Until last week's hi-tech analysis of ancient scripts at Oxford University, no one knew of their existence, and this is the first time they have been published.

Sophocles (495-405 BC), was a giant of the golden age of Greek civilisation, a dramatist who work alongside and competed with Aeschylus, Euripides and Aristophanes.

His best-known work is Oedipus Rex, the play that later gave its name to the Freudian theory, in which the hero kills his father and marries his mother - in a doomed attempt to escape the curse he brings upon himself. His other masterpieces include Antigone and Electra.

Sophocles was the cultured son of a wealthy Greek merchant, living at the height of the Greek empire. An accomplished actor, he performed in many of his own plays. He also served as a priest and sat on the committee that administered Athens. A great dramatic innovator, he wrote more than 120 plays, but only seven survive in full.

Last week's remarkable finds also include work by Euripides, Hesiod and Lucian, plus a large and particularly significant paragraph of text from the Elegies, by Archilochos, a Greek poet of the 7th century BC.

I cannot overstate how excited I am by this news.

Hat tip to Jan at Secular Blasphemy (who, if you are not reading, you should be)

Posted by Random Penseur at 09:50 AM | Comments (2)

April 12, 2005

Today in History: The Civil War Begins


Today, in 1861, at 4:30 a.m. Fort Sumter was fired upon, returned fire, and the United States was officially at war with itself.

After it had all ended, over 600,000 Americans had perished. Source.

Posted by Random Penseur at 09:31 AM | Comments (2)

February 17, 2005

Historical Artifact: The Mappa Mundi

Today, for history, we venture off to England to learn about the Mappa Mundi. The what, you ask? Well, it was news to me, too. The Mappa Mundi is a map, drawn in England in about 1290 a.d. It is a history of the world, writ as a map, and showing all of the world's wonders, including some fanciful creations and races that, I assume, never existed at all except in legend. It is a national treasure and if you wish to visit it and see it in person, it is at the Heresford Cathedral.

Superimposed on to the continents are drawings of the history of humankind and the marvels of the natural world. These 500 or so drawings include of around 420 cities and towns, 15 Biblical events, 33 plants, animals, birds and strange creatures, 32 images of the peoples of the world and 8 pictures from classical mythology.

Christopher de Hamel, a leading authority on medieval manuscripts, has said of the Mappa Mundi, '... it is without parallel the most important and most celebrated medieval map in any form, the most remarkable illustrated English manuscript of any kind, and certainly the greatest extant thirteenth-century pictorial manuscript.'

Sounds very cool to me.

By the way, while you're visiting, it sounds as if the Chained Library might also be worth a look. It dates from the 1600's.

Posted by Random Penseur at 04:45 PM | Comments (1)

February 07, 2005

Archeology Today: Erotic Frescoes Unveiled

Erotic frescoes from Pompeii have been unveiled today. Discovered in the 1950's, they are finally being put on public display, despite their strong sexual content. Go check it out. To skip the article and go straight to the pictures, like you would if it was a real life dirty magazine, click here.

Posted by Random Penseur at 02:53 PM | Comments (4)

February 03, 2005

Today in History

Seems like its been a long time since I did a good, annotated Today in History post, so:

Born Today:

*1368 Charles VI, also known as Charles the Mad, King of France (1380-1422)
*1809 Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy Hamburg Germany, composer and grandson of Moses Mendelssohn, a famous philosopher
*1811 Horace Greeley editor of the Tribune and important Civil War era figure, also known for saying: "Go west, young man"
*1826 Walter Bagehot England, economist/sociologist. If you've ever read the Economist, you've wondered about who he was!
*1830 Robert Cecil Marquess of Salisbury, British PM (1885-1902), built Hatfield House
*1894 Norman Rockwell US, artist/illustrator. Click on this link to see "Marine Homecoming", one work that has special resonance right now, I think. I hope every Marine comes home soon.
*1898 Alvar Aalto Finland, architect, links to buildings
*1904 Charlie "Pretty Boy" Floyd (long bio at link) FBI Most Wanted criminal
*1909 Simone Weil Paris, mystic/social philosopher/all around odd ball
*1945 Bob Griese one of my favorite all time quarterbacks (Miami Dolphins, 1971 Player of Year)

Died today:

*1468 Johann Gensfleisch Gutenberg dies
*1889 Belle Starr legendary Bandit Queen, murdered at 40.
*1924 Woodrow Wilson 28th President (1913-21), dies at his home in Washington at 67
*1959 The Day the Music Died: The Big Bopper [Jiles Perry Richardson]; Buddy Holly; and, Richie Valens killed in plane crash in Iowa.

Interesting Events Today:

*1653 Cardinal Jules Mazarin returns to Paris from exile
*1660 General Moncks army reaches London after marching from Coldstream and thus puts Charles II on the throne and insures a return to civil liberty
*1690 1st paper money in America issued (colony of Massachusetts)
*1882 Circus owner PT Barnum buys his world famous elephant Jumbo from the London Zoo for $10,000, later killed by a train
*1917 US liner Housatonic sunk by German sub & diplomatic relations severed. This link is to the actual log of the German U-Boat commander who describes, under February 3, the sinking of the "steamer".

Hope you enjoyed it as much as I did researching it!

Posted by Random Penseur at 09:22 AM | Comments (2)

January 27, 2005

Today in History: Interesting Birthdays

I could not believe how many talented people were born today:

*1756 Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Need we say more?

*1832 Rev. Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, author of Alice in Wonderland as Lewis Carroll

*1834 Dmitri Mendeleev chemist who discovered the periodic table of the elements

*1872 The Hon. Learned Hand, Albany NY, Chief Judge (US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit)

*1885 Jerome Kern, composer of Showboat, among other productions

*1900 Admiral Hyman G Rickover, USN, considered the father of the modern nuclear navy

Posted by Random Penseur at 05:06 PM | Comments (2)

January 06, 2005

Today in History

Been a long time since I did a today in history post and there seemed to be lots of juicy things to write about today. I am particularly struck by the number of composers who were both born and died on this day and, without annotating them, I include them nonetheless in a separate section. By the way, this is totally raw without my usual links because I am soooo pressed for time at work today. There are some really interesting people and events below, so:

Births on January 6:
1367 Richard II Bordeaux, France, king of England (1377-99)
1412 Joan of Arc
1585 Claude Favre baron de Perouges seigneur de Vaugelas French grammarian
1587 Gaspar de Guzmán Count of Olivares, Premier of Spain (1621-43)
1602 Karl Rabenhaupt German/Dutch baron of Sucha/army leader
1745 Jacques-Étienne Montgolfier Annonay France, aeronaut (1st pioneer balloonist/brother of Joseph-Michel/co-inventor of calorimeter, hydraulic ram, and process for producing vellum)
1807 Joseph Holt Brevet Major General (Union Army), died in 1894
1811 Charles Sumner leading Reconstruction senator, died in 1874
1822 Heinrich Schliemann German polyglot/archeologist (Troje)
1827 John Calvin Brown Major General (Confederate Army), died in 1889
1827 John Wesley Frazer Brigadier General (Confederate Army), die in 1906
1854 Sherlock Holmes Mycroft, fictional detective (via Arthur Conan Doyle)
1864 Ban Johnson Norwalk CT, baseball founder (American League)
1878 Carl Sandburg US, poet/biographer of Lincoln (The People, Yes)
1880 Tom Mix Mix Run PA, silent screen cowboy actor (Dick Turpin)
1882 Samuel Rayburn Tennessee, (Representative-D-TX), speaker of the House (1940-57)
1883 Khalil Gibran Lebanon, mystic poet (The Prophet, Broken Wings)
1925 John Z DeLorean former automaker (DeLorean)
1931 E[dgar] L[aurence] Doctorow New York City NY, novelist (World's Fair)
1935 Nino Tempo Niagara Falls NY, rock vocalist (Deep Purple)
1937 Doris Troy [Payne], US soul singer/songwriter (Just One Kiss)
1944 Van McCoy US soul singer/songwriter (Hey Mr DJ, Hustle)
1945 Pepe Le Pew cartoon skunk (Au Dorable Kitty)
1946 Roger Keith (Syd) Barrett Cambridge England, lead guitarist (Pink Floyd-The Piper at the Gates of Dawn)
1951 Kim Wilson rocker (Fabulous Thunderbirds)
1952 Armelia McQueen North Carolina (Brooklyn Conservatory), actress
1953 Malcolm Young Glasgow Scotland, guitarist (AC/DC-Highway to Hell)
1955 Rowan Atkinson Newcastle-upon-Tyne England, comedian/actor (Mr Bean, Blackadder, Never Say Never Again)
1959 Kathy Sledge Philadelphia PA, vocalist (Sister Sledge-We are Family)
1964 Mark O'Toole bassist/drummer (Frankie Goes to Hollywood-Relax)
1976 Agnieszka Zielinska Miss Poland-Universe (1997)

Deaths which occurred on January 06:
1088 Berengarius of Tours French theologist, dies
1448 Christopher III king of Denmark/Norway/Sweden, dies
1536 Baldassare Peruzzi Italian architect/painter, dies
1541 Bernard van Orley Flemish royal painter of Hungary, dies at about 52
1646 Elias Hill German architect of Augsburg, dies at 72
1693 Mehmed IV sultan (Turkey), dies at 51
1785 Haym Salomon dies in Philadelphia PA at 44, helped finance the revolution
1884 Gregor Mendel Augustine monk/heredity pioneer, dies at 61
1884 Paul Taglioni "the Great", Italian/Austrian choreographer, dies at 75
1885 Peter C Asbjørnsen Norwegian fairy tale writer, dies at 72
1919 Theodore Roosevelt 26th President (1901-09), dies at his home in Oyster Bay NY at 60
1993 Rudolph Nureyev Russian ballet dancer (Kirov), dies of AIDS at 54
1994 Tip O'Neill speaker of the house, dies of cancer

On this day in:
1066 King Harald of England crowned
1494 The first mass in America was celebrated in the Roman Catholic church on Isabella Island in Haiti. This was the first church established in the New World, founded by Christopher Columbus.
1496 Moorish fortress Alhambra, near Grenada, surrenders to the Christi
1497 Jews are expelled from Graz (Styria)* (Corrected thanks to the eagle eyes of John Bruce!)
1535 City of Lima Peru founded by Francisco Pizarro
1540 King Henry VIII of England married his 4th wife, Anne of Cleves
1663 Great earthquake in New England
1681 1st recorded boxing match (Duke of Albemarle's butler vs his butcher)
1745 Bonnie Prince Charlies army draws to Glasgow
1759 George Washington marries Martha Dandridge Curtis
1773 Massachusetts slaves petition legislature for freedom
1838 Samuel Morse made 1st public demonstration of telegraph
1967 "Milton Berle Show" last airs on ABC-TV
1969 WLIW TV channel 21 in Garden City NY (PBS) begins broadcasting
1973 "Schoolhouse Rock" premieres on ABC-TV with Multiplication Rock
1994 Ice skater Nancy Kerrigan is attacked by Tonya Harding's bodyguard

Composers born this day:
1486 Martin Agricola [M Sore], German composer/cantor
1683 François de La Croix composer
1692 Rynoldus Popma van Oevering composer
1695 Giuseppe Sammartini composer
1702 Jose Melchior de Nebra Blascu composer
1728 Charles-Joseph-Balthazar Sohier composer
1791 Jose Melchor Gomiz y Colomer composer
1794 Kaspar Masek composer
1798 Ferdinand Simon Gassner composer
1803 Henri Herz composer
1807 Ludwig Erk composer
1838 Max Bruch Köln (Cologne), Germany, composer
1850 Franz Xaver Scharwenka German pianist/composer (Mataswintha)
1856 Giuseppe Martucci composer
1861 Heinrich Gottlieb Noren composer
1867 Georges Martin Witkowski composer
1868 Vittorio Monti composer
1872 Alexander N Scriabin Moscow, hallucinogenic composer (Prometheus)
1873 Karl Straube German organist/conductor
1880 Yuliya Lazarevna Veysberg composer
1900 Pierre-Octave Ferroud French composer (Sarabande, Jeunesse)
1902 Mark Brunswick composer
1902 Sofie-Carmen Eckhardt-Gramatte composer
1903 Boris Blacher Newchwang China, German composer (Orchester-Ornament)
1903 Maurice Abravanel Saloniki Greece, conductor/composer
1908 Menahem Avidom composer
1911 Yannis Andreou Papaioannou composer
1916 Philip Bezanson composer
1920 Earl Kim composer
1922 Finn Einar Mortensen composer
1949 Richard Horowitz composer

Composers who died this day:

1685 Malachias Siebenhaar composer, dies at 68
1697 Carlo Mannelli composer, dies at 56
1738 Franz Xaver Murschhauser composer, dies at 74
1742 Johann Georg Reinhardt composer, dies
1790 Johann Trier composer, dies at 73
1800 William Jones composer, dies at 73
1831 Rodolphe Kreutzer French composer/violinist (Kreutzersonate), dies at 64
1959 Jose Enrique Pedreira composer, dies at 54
1976 Oscar Esplá Spanish philosopher/composer (Sonata del Sur), dies at 89

Posted by Random Penseur at 05:16 PM | Comments (5)

November 11, 2004

Interesting Trivia: Origin of Two Expressions

I was perusing the history section of the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst website (don't ask) and I came across the following little nugget that I thought might be of interest:

Two expressions from the old RMA [Royal Military Academy] passed into the language. "Talking Shop", meaning "to discuss subjects not understood by others", derives from the RMA being commonly known as "The Shop", as its first building was a converted workshop in Woolwich Arsenal. "Snooker", the table-top game, was invented by a former cadet of the RMA, where the members of the junior intake were known as "snookers", from a corruption of "les neux" (the new guys).


Isn't that cool?

Posted by Random Penseur at 02:00 PM | Comments (5)

November 01, 2004

Today in History: My Birthday Edition

Today, November 1st:


*1500 Benvenuto Cellini a fascinating charactor of the Renaissance. He was a sculptor, goldsmith, assassin, and writer: "Much of Cellini's notoriety, and perhaps even fame, derives from his memoirs, begun in 1558 and abandoned in 1562, which were published posthumously under the title The Autobiography of Benvenuto Cellini. As noted by one biographer, 'His amours and hatreds, his passions and delights, his love of the sumptuous and the exquisite in art, his self-applause and self-assertion, make this one of the most singular and fascinating books in existence.'"

*1871 Stephen Crane US, novelist and poet, known best for the Red Badge of Courage. But he also wrote Maggie: A Girl Of The Streets (1893), his first book, about a girl from the slums and he moved to the slums to live in order to write about it. He was also a well known war correspondent.

*1902 Nordahl Grieg, a fascinating person, was a Norwegian poet, dramatist, newspaper man, and novelist. He was an anti-fascist at a time when that was not popular and served with the Norwegian Goverment in exile in England during WW II. He died during a bombing run over Berlin in 1943.

*1942 Larry Flynt magazine publisher (Hustler). Heh.

*1961 Mags Furuholmen Norway, from the band Aha (I'm sure you are all singing, "Take on Me")

*1963 Rick Allen Def Leppard drummer.

*1967 ME! "I was born a small, black child in Mississippi." Quote?


Ok, there was a lot of interesting stuff that happened today and I regret that I lack the time to do my usual history links to it all but I want to put it out there anyway.

*79 Pompei buried by Mt Vesuvius
*1210 King John of England begins imprisoning Jews
*1512 Michelangelo's paintings on ceiling of Sistine Chapel, 1st exhibited
*1604 William Shakespeare's tragedy "Othello" 1st presented
*1611 Shakespeare's romantic comedy "The Tempest" 1st presented
*1755 Lisbon earthquake kills more than 50,000
*1765 Stamp Act went into effect in the British colonies
*1776 Mission San Juan Capistrano founded in California
*1894 Vaccine for diphtheria announced by Dr Roux of Paris
*1922 Ottoman Empire abolished
*1950 Puerto Rican nationalists try to kill President Truman at the Blair House
*1952 Fusion occurred for the 1st time on Earth
*1956 Nagy government of Hungary withdraws from Warsaw Pact

My wife gave me, last night, a very cool gift. She gave me the entire DVD collection of the Masterpiece Theater presentation of: To Serve Them All My Days. I loved this when I saw it 20 some years ago and it remains one of my favorite books. Thanks, honey!!!!

Posted by Random Penseur at 08:08 AM | Comments (12)

October 06, 2004

Today in History: Birthday Celebration Edition

It's been a long while since I've done one of these but today is a good day to do it.

Birthdays today, October 6:

*1820 Jenny Lind, the Swedish Nightingale and the most popular female vocalist of the mid to late 1800's. Probably the inspiration for the Teutonic Titwillow of Blazing Saddles, one of my favorite movies. First brought to NY to sing by P.T. Barnum.

*1846 George Westinghouse responsible for alternating current in US and thus the Age of Electricity. Also created the air brake for the trains.

*1887 Le Corbusier (beware the popups, but a great source of links) Switzerland, architect/city planner/artist (Urbanisme). I always hated the fact that he wanted to tear down the center of Paris and replace it with high rises. His only building in the United States is the Carpenter Center at Harvard (picture). This building was designed as the graduate school for architects at Harvard and the architect, as I recall from my studies, threw every decorative element he possessed in his bag of tricks into the building, including the tropical sun shades he had created for Brazil, in order to give the budding architects the chance to experience all of him and his vernacular. Not the best building but fun to visit should you be in Cambridge.

*1909 Carole Lombard actress (My Man Godfrey, In Name Only)

*1914 MY (maternal) GRANDFATHER!!! My grandfather was born twelve years after his father came to this country. My great-grandfather came with no money and no English but got a job very quickly. The street car conductor would tell him where to get off to go to work, at first. My grandfather was born in a lower east side tenement, with gas lights flickering on the walls, no electricity. My grandfather, born to immigrants with no money, graduated from Harvard University on a full scholarship and Columbia University School of Law. He went into real estate and eventually became one of the first corporate raiders, albeit without the kind of capital those fellows enjoy today. He is civic minded to the nth degree, serving on boards of educational institutions, symphonies, and historical societies. He has written books and published articles. He is, to my mind, the living embodiment of the American Dream. In short, my grandfather is my personal hero and I strive to model myself after him and live up to the very hard example he has set. I come up short, I think, but I do try. Knowing him has enriched my life and I look forward to having dinner with him tonight to celebrate. 90 years old and 100% there. Happy birthday!

*1914 Thor Heyerdahl Norway, anthropologist/explorer, sailed the Kon Tiki raft from Peru to Polynesia to prove his theory that American Indians could have been the ancestors of the Polynesians. His many expeditions are chronicled here

*1942 former Bond-girl and ex-wife to Peter Sellers, Britt Ekland, (IMDB bio) and pictures.

Deaths occuring today

* 1891 Charles Stewart Parnell leader of the Irish party and nationalist who gave the concept of the boycott by telling people to shun those who bought foreclosed farms. He was brought down by a sensational divorce case involving Kitty O'Shea, who you may have heard of.

*1981 Anwar Sadat assassinated Hosnai Mubarak becomes Egytian president

*1983 Terence Cardinal Cooke, age 62. He was a great Cardinal for the City of New York.

*1989 Bette Davis, 81.

*2004 Rodney Dangerfield, age 82.


*1520 German reformer Martin Luther, 36, published "Prelude on the Babylonian Captivity of the Church," his famous writing which attacked the entire sacramental system of the Catholic Church.

*1781 Americans & French begin siege of Cornwallis at Yorktown; last battle of the Revolutionary War. The rumor is that when the British marched out of the garrison, after surrendering, their band played, "The World Turned Upside Down".

*1889 Thomas Edison shows his 1st motion picture, . Go check out some of the clips from other Edison films.

*1927 "Jazz Singer," (beware popups) first full length movie with a sound track, premieres in NYC. It is the story of a Cantor's son who doesn't want to be a Cantor. Al Jolson (born Asa Yoelson) starred.

*1973 Yom Kippur War begins as Syria & Egypt attack Israel. Here, I want to send you to Michael Oren's book, the best book I've read on the subject. It is an enthralling read: Six Days of War : June 1967 and the Making of the Modern Middle East. Oren thinks, and I agree, that you cannot understand the current situation in the Middle East without understanding this conflict. Even then, the aim of the invading Arabs was nothing less than the complete destruction of the Jewish people, as Oren demonstrates by, inter alia, quoting from Arab government documents and newspapers articles.

Whew, this was a long one, wasn't it? Maybe that's why it's been a while, it takes a bit of time to create these.


Thanks to Mick for noting my mistake on the dates above. I corrected it.

Posted by Random Penseur at 08:49 AM | Comments (8)

September 07, 2004

Archeology in the News

I came across two stories today involving archeological finds and my interest was piqued.

The first was in Norway, where divers discovered the wreck of a 14th century ship. This fellow from the Norwegian Maritime Museum notes: "We don't know much about Norwegian vessels from the Middle Ages, except that they became bigger, wider and could carry more cargo over the years," he said. "Pictures have been found in churches and on stone monuments." That's quite cool, I think. They find a living example of something known only from depictions on monuments or in churches. Suddenly, bang, history lives.

The second was in England where six Viking graves were discovered, the first discovery of Viking graves ever in England. "Archaeologists spent months excavating the site in Cumwhitton in Cumbria, which had swords, spears, jewellery, fire-making materials and riding equipment as well as six graves of Viking men and women." Another news source also reported that the grave contained a drinking horn. You know they would not have buried a Viking without a drinking horn, right?

Posted by Random Penseur at 08:20 AM | Comments (1)

August 20, 2004

Today in History

Been awhile since I've done one of these, but I came across a few things I thought might be interesting to share, and after doing a little quick research to augment them, I give you:

Today, in:

*1785 Oliver Hazard Perry US Naval hero at the Battle of Lake Erie in the War of 1812 ("We have met the enemy") was born. He died from Yellow Fever at the age of 34. The link is to a very nice little bio.

*1866 Pres Andrew Johnson formally declares Civil War over. Let me refer you to an excellent report on the surrender at Appomattox from the Southern perspective.

*1873 Eliel Saarinen Finland, architect, was born. He designed a number of interesting buildings (including the Helsinki Railway Station, his most important, View image of the Station here and View image of the Station at night here) and was involved with what I think is one the most important architectural competitions of all times, The Chicago Tribune Tower competition, in which he took second place (I can't seem to find much about this on the net, to my surprise). He also designed beautiful furniture.

*1890 H.P. Lovecraft US, Gothic novelist was born and you can read a biography of him here, where, at the bottom, you can find a list of other online biographies.

*1942 Isaac Hayes composer (Shaft) was born. He has his own official web site (a little hokey, but fun).

*1940 Leon Trotsky icepicked by Frank Jackson in Mexico City. I found an article about the murder but I know that there is a lot more out there if you are interested.

*1944 Graig Nettles one of my favorite Yankees' 3rd baseman was born

*1968 650,000 Warsaw Pact troops invade Czechoslovakia and "crush . . . the Prague spring".

Posted by Random Penseur at 09:07 AM | Comments (3)

August 05, 2004


Erin O'Connor, over at Critical Mass, has a very interesting post about the Conferedate prison camp at Andersonville. I found it to be a fascinating article, written with Erin's customary erudition. Erin writes about the horrors of Andersonville as follows (go visit Erin's site for all the cool links she included in the text below and for the rest of her great post):

Andersonville was designed to hold about 10,000 men. But by the time it was itself closed down later that summer, it held 30,000. Many were nearly naked (the Confederates did not supply clothing), all were nearly starved (what little food was rationed to the prisoners was often rotten or, in the case of corn bread, so thick with jagged pieces of unground cob that the men could not eat it for fear of the damage it would do to their already bleeding intestines). Those who had shelter of any kind slept under "shebangs," makeshift tents comprised of clothing and blankets draped over short wooden poles. The stench of the place could be smelled for miles. The death rate, from starvation, scurvy, gangrene (which could arise from even the smallest scratch), dysentery, and so on, was astronomical--nearly one third of the men confined there died there. The death rate was also, tragically, avoidable--what the Confederate officers lacked in the way of resources and basic compassion the local Georgians did not. They attempted on more than one occasion to bring food and clothing to the prisoners in the stockade, often robbing their own closets and tables to do so. But they were turned away at the gate.


It reminded me that I had gone to see, sometime in the summer of 2000, with my father in law, an exhibit at the New York Historical Society concerning Andersonville and, with a little digging on the web, I unearth it for you here: Eye of the Storm. It has, in addition to the below, links to photgraphs by Matthew Brady, including: a bird's eye view of Andersonville; a shot of ration distribution; and a shot of the privies.

Union Private and map-maker Knox Sneden (out of NY, by the way) produced some five hundred watercolor drawings and maps about his experiences fighting for the Union and then later as a prisoner of war. He also wrote a journal. The scholars at the NYHS considered the drawings and journal to "constitute one of the most important Civil War documents ever produced". The interview with the historian who first realized the importance of these documents makes for fascinating reading as well. If you click on the above link for the Eye of the Storm, go to journal entries to read moving extracts such as the following concerning Sneden's captivity in Andersonville. Sneden's watercolors are associated with each panel of the Journal. If you want to read directly about Andersonville, go straight to panel #15. I am putting the quotations from the Journal in the extended entry below. Go read them there, they will move you.

The following entry concerns the general conditions and how cold the prisoners were:

April 7, 1864

We are having warmer weather but it rains every day for an hour or two. The Rebel quartermasters are very wroth because several axes and shovels which they lent us to build the causeway across the swamp cannot be found. They threaten to stop our rations if not found and returned to them. The prisoners want them to chop stumps with. And at night sounds of three or four axes are heard in the swamp. The nights are still cold and damp, many sleep during the day in a sunny place on the ground and keep working at the tree stumps for fuel most of the night, while hundreds lay on the bare ground shivering with the cold until they can start a small fire next morning.

And this entry dealing with the gangs of criminals who preyed on the more helpless prisoners:

April 8-20, 1864

One of the prisoners was killed last night by some of the Raiders with clubs, he was of course robbed of his overcoat and money, his head was smashed in with a pine club which had been hardened in the fire recently as the black smut left its mark. He was an old Belle Island prisoner who had his miserable hovel near what is known as Raider's Island, a small spit of sand on the brook and swamp near the sinks. As it was very foggy at the time the Raiders got away and are not known. About thirty of these scoundrels keep together and rob prisoners nearly every foggy night.

The following extract was terribly poingant. These men were dying alone and isolated with no way to communicate with their families and with the letters they wrote being stolen for the value of the postage stamp:

The death rate for this month is very large, over 300 have died since 1st April! Sixty or more are lying helpless, and there is not much chance for them. The hospital (so called) will be soon moved out of the stockade to the hill east of the battery on the hill. Walsh and Colvin who were captured with me are very low with diarrhea and cannot walk. The other friends attend to their wants and cook their rations for them as best they know how. As life is very uncertain in this hell hole, and our families at home have no conception of the horrors of this place, we have made contracts with each other in case any of us who were captured together are exchanged or escape to do all we can to let our folks at home know our fate and have written each others addresses and residences so that we may personally apprize those who as yet do not know our destiny or fate. The letter which I wrote home from Crew and Pemberton Prison must never have reached my folks in New York or I would have had an answer of some kind. Turner probably has seized on the 10¢ silver piece which must have been sent in the letter for postage to me

I found this journal to be riveting. The exhibition of the drawings and maps was moving but, somehow, I think I just got more out of quietly reading the extracts from his journal sitting here in the peace of my office than I did in seeing the works in the flesh four years ago.

Posted by Random Penseur at 04:21 PM | Comments (8)

July 23, 2004

Today in History

Here are some random today in history facts. I can find no way to link them but I thought they were all interesting, so I list them here as trivia, along with a little research by yours truly to add some value:

*1599 Caravaggio receives his first public commission for paintings, click here for cool website gallery of all his works
*1885 Ulysses S Grant, brilliant general and much less brilliant 18th President of the United States, dies in Mount McGregor, NY, at age 63. Click here for a dissenting point of view by the US Grant Association.
*1904 Ice cream cone supposedly created by Charles E Menches during Lousiana Purchase Expo at the St. Louis World's Fair. Here is an extremely cool link from the Library of Congress on ice cream in America.

Posted by Random Penseur at 10:01 AM | Comments (2)

July 20, 2004

Today in History -- the Arts

There is no question that today was a great day in history for the arts, starting, in 1304 with the birth of the great Italian poet, Francesco Petrarch (the father of Humanism), and followed, a quick 600+ years later with the following births in:

*1958 Michael McNeill from Simple Minds (as if anyone could, who needs to be told "Don't You Forget About Me")
*1943 John Lodge bassist for Moody Blues
*1946 Kim Carnes singer (Bette Davis Eyes)
*1947 Carlos Santana of Santana
*1954 Jay Jay French, guitarist for Twisted Sister
*1955 Michael Anthony bassist for Van Halen
*1956 Paul Cook drummer for the Sex Pistols


in 1968 Iron Butterfly's "In-a-gadda-da-vida" becomes the first heavy metal song to hit the charts at #117.

I ask you, from Petrach's canzoniere to "In-a-gadda-da-vida" (scroll down for lyrics) in 664 years, is this progress or what? That may have come off snottier than I intended, but so what. The point remains valid, even if the comparison is unfair.

Ed. Note: I will be singing most of the songs mentioned above, including some not mentioned ("We're not gonna take it" -- Twisted Sister) for the remainder of the day. I trust I will not be the only one.

Posted by Random Penseur at 10:25 AM | Comments (1)

July 15, 2004

Architecture -- today in history

Today, in 1573, was born the architect, Inigo Jones. (Please do not confuse him with the other great Inigo, Inigo Montaya, gifted orator). Jones is one of my favorites and I made a strong bid, defeated by my wife in some of the ugliest back room dealing I have ever seen, to name my son, Inigo. Probably for the best, really. Over a fifteen year period from 1625 to 1640, Jones was responsible for the repair and remodeling of St. Paul's Cathedral (more associated with Wren which is why I give no link to it here), and the design of Covent Garden. There is a nice bio of him here, if you are so inclined. You can see what he looked like in his self-portrait.

Why else is he so cool? Look upon his wonders and weep:

* The Banqueting Hall at Whitehall Palace: "When the Banqueting House in London was completed, it bore no resemblance to anything ever built in England before". Cool, right?

* The Queen's House at Greenwich. If you go here, you can take a virtual tour of some of the rooms and grounds which are available for hire for weddings.

Jones was also known as a set designer and party giver (and there is a nice portrait of him there as well).

By the way, it was a good day for the arts all around as, in 1606, Rembrandt van Rijn was born in Leiden, Netherlands.

Such a short post and yet it took so long to put together!

Posted by Random Penseur at 09:41 AM | Comments (3)

July 14, 2004

Bastille Day, II -- Le Bilan

Le Bilan, roughly translated, is the bill or the balance sheet. It can also refer to a tally of casualties.

As I mentioned before, there was a horribly destructive period in France during the Revolution, it was known as the Terror. Andrew Cusack has a very good post in memory of the thousands of people executed when the Revolution came to town.

The Committee of Public Safety, an innocuous sounding group, held dictatorial power in France and was directly responsible for the deaths. It was a committee of 12, led by Robespierre. I read that as many as 17,000 deaths can be traced to their hands, many by beheading. Here is a good link on the Reign of Terror. Oddly, if you do a google search on the committee itself, you will not find very much on the terror it presided over. Feels like revisionism to me.

I have friends in France who come from la noblesse in la Vendée. The memories of the repression there run quite strong still and my friends can speak about it as if it took place yesterday. Go read about it here and you will appreciate why. It is very much a forgotten episode in the glorious French Revolution.

So, is it fair to say that the French Revolution was, at best, a mixed bag? I'm just glad that we Americans resisted the worst impulses of our revolutionary brothers.

Posted by Random Penseur at 05:05 PM | Comments (0)

Happy Bastille Day!

Today, in 1789, French Peasants who were "so poor, [they] cannot even afford [their] own language... all [they] have is this stupid accent", stormed the Bastille. I, for one, pledge to honor their bravery by watching my copy of History of the World, Part I, to relive this moment in world history, as it was faithfully recorded by the noted historian and auteur, Dr. Mel Brooks.

If, sticklers that you are, you are not persuaded by the interpretation of Monsieur Brooks, I give you the patriotic pablum put forward by the French Government.

But above all, Bastille Day, or the Fourteenth of July, is the symbol of the end of the monarchy and the beginning of the Republic. The national holiday is a time when all citizens celebrate their membership to a republican nation. It is because this national holiday is rooted in the history of the birth of the Republic that it has such great significance.

On May 5, 1789, the King convened the Estates General to hear their complaints, but the assembly of the Third Estate, representing the citizens of the town, soon broke away and formed the Constituent National Assembly.

On June 20, 1789, the deputies of the Third Estate took the oath of the Jeu de Paume "to not separate until the Constitution had been established." The Deputies' opposition was echoed by public opinion. The people of Paris rose up and decided to march on the Bastille, a state prison that symbolized the absolutism and arbitrariness of the Ancien Regime.

The storming of the Bastille, on July 14, 1789, immediately became a symbol of historical dimensions; it was proof that power no longer resided in the King or in God, but in the people, in accordance with the theories developed by the Philosophes of the 18th century.

On July 16, the King recognized the tricolor cockade: the Revolution had succeeded.

For all citizens of France, the storming of the Bastille symbolizes, liberty, democracy and the struggle against all forms of oppression.

What did the French version leave out? The heroic storming of the prison freed some 7 lightly guarded prisoners, including the Marquis de Sade. Oh yeah, nothing about the horrific terror and abuses which broke out after the Revolution had succeeded. More on that on another day, me thinks.

In an event, on a lighter note:

More in the category of making people feel good, I note that on today in 1906 was born Tom Carvel, founder of Carvel Ice Cream. Also today, in 1832, opium was exempted from federal tariff duty.

Soft serve ice cream and duty free opium, all in the same day. Is this country great or what!?!

Posted by Random Penseur at 02:22 PM | Comments (4)

July 13, 2004

Today in History

Today, July 13, is not only the day that my most recent parking ticket is due, it was also on this day, in:

*1568 that the Dean of St Paul's Cathedral, of blessed memory, perfects a way to bottle beer (may we have a moment of silence, please?)


*1898 that Guglielmo Marconi patents the radio.

Taken together, they made it possible for you to stay home, drink a beer, and listen on the radio as, on this day in 1934, Babe Ruth hit his 700th home run (against Detroit).

Coincidence? No way. This right here is enough to make me believe in a higher power.

On a more serious note, today in 1793 Jean Paul Marat, French revolutionary, was murdered in his bathtub by Charlotte Corday. There is a cool link to a small bio for Corday here.

Posted by Random Penseur at 09:31 AM | Comments (0)

July 06, 2004

Creation of Time Zones

I came across this little snippet, about how the US time zones came to be created, in the NY Times this morning in an article about timekeeping in Grand Central Station and wanted to share it. I thought it was fascinating and I had never given it any thought before:

Indeed, timekeeping, as it is known today, was essentially invented out of necessity in the late 1800's by a collection of railroads, including the New York Central, a predecessor of Metro-North. Before the railroads, time was a local matter, set in each town according to the sun. Therefore, noon in Cincinnati, for example, would be slightly different from noon in Cleveland. But this was obviously a problem for railroads. Coordination of traffic on the tracks, as well as schedules for picking up passengers, depended on a standardized time system.

"A train could leave Syracuse at 12 o'clock and come into Utica, and it would still be 12 o'clock," said Pierce Haviland, a Metro-North employee who is also a railroad historian. "That wasn't working."

At first, railroad managers set up 100 different railroad time zones, but that proved too complicated. Finally, on Nov. 18, 1883, four standard time zones - Eastern, Central, Mountain and Pacific - were adopted by the railroads. At noon on that day, the time was transmitted by telegraph from the United States Naval Observatory in Washington to all the railroads in the United States and Canada. Twice a day thereafter, railroad clocks were resynchronized with the Naval Observatory's clock.

However, it was not until 1918, when Congress passed the Standard Time Act, that the railroads' time zones became the standard for everyone in the United States.

Posted by Random Penseur at 09:20 AM | Comments (0)

June 28, 2004

Today in History

Today in history is full of interesting things. In:

*1778 Mary Ludwig Hayes "Molly Pitcher" aids American patriots
*1820 Tomato is proven nonpoisonous
*1838 Britain's Queen Victoria crowned in Westminster Abbey
*1905 Russian sailors mutiny aboard the battleship "Potemkin"

And, I must confess I did not know this and am struck by the coincidence, if it was,

*1914 Assassination of the heir to the throne of Austria, Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife, Sophia, in Sarajevo by a Serbian Nationalist,Gavrilo Princip. This incident precipitated a war with Serbia, eventually starting WW I (note, they just found the pistol used in that assassination)


*1919 Treaty of Versailles ending WW I signed

In between the assassination and the treaty, a grand total of:

*65,038,810 people were mobolized;
*8,538,315 of whom were killed;
*21,219,452 of whom were wounded;
*7,750,919 of whom were taken prisoner or were missing; and,
*37,508,686 of whom constitute total casualties.
*57.6% of those mobilized were casualties.

source for above figures.

Is it no wonder that it was called the War to End All Wars?

* * *

Finally, and on a lighter note, we have some birthdays:

*1577 Peter Paul Rubens, Flemish Baroque painter (Circumcision)
*1712 Jean Jacques Rousseau, social contractor (Confessions)
*1902 Richard Rodgers, composer (Rodgers & Hammerstein) who I mentioned here before.
*1926 Mel Brooks comedian/actor/director (Blazing Saddles, Spaceballs)
*1946 Gilda Radner, comedienne (SNL-Baba Wawa)
*1966 John Cusack actor (Stand By Me, Sure Thing, Better Off Dead)

Posted by Random Penseur at 01:40 PM | Comments (0)

June 25, 2004

Today in history, Military History

On this day in …

* 1876, Lt. Col. George A. Custer and his 7th Cavalry were wiped out by Sioux and Cheyenne Indians in the Battle of the Little Bighorn in Montana;

* 1942, some 1,000 British Royal Air Force bombers raided Bremen, Germany, during World War II; and,

* 1950, war broke out in Korea as forces from the communist North invaded the South.

Posted by Random Penseur at 08:59 AM | Comments (0)

June 23, 2004

Odd historical artifact turns up

This is just sort of a weird historical footnote that people might find interesting. The pistol used to assassinate Arch-Duke Ferdinand has been found in Austria. As you all know, this killing was the spark that started WW I.

I didn't know it was missing in the first place.

Posted by Random Penseur at 08:44 AM | Comments (0)

June 21, 2004

Today in History

The Constitution of the United States of America came into effect today in 1788 as the 9th State, New Hampshire, ratified it. Cool, huh?

Posted by Random Penseur at 12:07 PM | Comments (0)

June 18, 2004

Today in History

Interesting fact. Today, in 1815, the battle of Waterloo was fought. An interesting link can be found here, where you can see the Turner painting of the battle and, if you scroll down, a great description of the battle. Here is another description of the battle which, while the author describes it as slimmed down, is relatively comprehensive.

By the way, also today, in 1812, the U.S. declared war against Great Britain in the War of 1812.

Posted by Random Penseur at 09:25 AM | Comments (0)

June 16, 2004

Some words to contemplate

Today, in 1858, after being chosen as the Republican candidate for the upcoming U.S. Senate election, Abraham Lincoln gave his famous speech: "A house divided against itself cannot stand".

I reproduce here, some of what he said, because I find it moving and rousing and beautiful and because there is still something we can learn from it today. This is the conclusion of the speech:

Our cause, then, must be intrusted to, and conducted by, its own undoubted friends-those whose hands are free, whose hearts are in the work-who do care for the result. Two years ago the Republicans of the nation mustered over thirteen hundred thousand strong. We did this under the single impulse of resistance to a common danger, with every external circumstance against us. Of strange, discordant, and even hostile elements, we gathered from the four winds, and formed and fought the battle through, under the constant hot fire of a disciplined, proud, and pampered enemy. Did we brave all them to falter now?-now, when that same enemy is wavering, dissevered, and belligerent? The result is not doubtful. We shall not fail-if we stand firm, we shall not fail. Wise counsels may accelerate, or mistakes delay it, but, sooner or later, the victory is sure to come.

I am struck by the parallels to the current war on terror. We need the same national cohesion and steadfastness of purpose Lincoln called for so that, for us, victory is sure to come. I hope we can find it somewhere.

Posted by Random Penseur at 08:53 AM | Comments (0)

June 15, 2004

Magna Carta

I want to chat about Magna Carta (the Great Charter), signed today in 1215 by King John at Runnymede. Well, I did want to chat about it, but I don't think I can improve much on what the British Library has to say about it:

Magna Carta is often thought of as the corner-stone of liberty and the chief defence against arbitrary and unjust rule in England. In fact it contains few sweeping statements of principle, but is a series of concessions wrung from the unwilling King John by his rebellious barons in 1215. However, Magna Carta established for the first time a very significant constitutional principle, namely that the power of the king could be limited by a written grant.

King John's unsuccessful attempts to defend his dominions in Normandy and much of western France led to oppressive demands on his subjects. Taxes were extortionate; reprisals against defaulters were ruthless, and John's administration of justice was considered capricious. In January 1215 a group of barons demanded a charter of liberties as a safeguard against the King's arbitrary behaviour. The barons took up arms against John and captured London in May 1215.

By 10 June both parties met and held negotiations at Runnymede, a meadow by the River Thames. The concessions made by King John were outlined in a document known as the 'Articles of the Barons', to which the King's great seal was attached, and on 19 June the barons renewed their oaths of allegiance to the King. Meanwhile the royal chancery produced a formal royal grant, based on the agreements reached at Runnymede, which became known as Magna Carta (Latin for the 'Great Charter').

I would like to add this, though. Prior to the signature of this document, it was understood that the Kings ruled by divine right given from God. Upon the signature of the Magna Carta, the divine right of Kings was curtailed by Man. The significance of this development cannot be overstated and should be evident to all.

While you are at the British Library web site, assuming you've followed the link, I highly recommend taking a moment and exploring the treasures of the British Library. There are some fascinating things there.

Posted by Random Penseur at 03:19 PM | Comments (0)

June 14, 2004

This day in history

Usually, when you and the radio come into contact, it's by way of you turning on the radio and tuning into a particular station or even program. It's not usually because someone calls you on the phone, from the radio station, to request that you listen to that station. I just got a call from Z-100 to tell me that if I listen and hear a certain song it could be worth $1000 to me. I explained that I was at work and not really able to listen to her station and she thanked me and got off in a hurry. I mean, she'd have to be in a hurry, wouldn't she? She must have over 7 million other New Yorkers to call to beg to tune in.

How crappy does a radio station have to be if they call you and ask you to listen?

Posted by Random Penseur at 03:23 PM | Comments (0)

June 02, 2004

Warsaw Ghetto Uprising

The last military leader of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising gave an interview on Polish television. It was published and translated by Chrenkoff. This is a strong voice, to borrow a favorite expression of the far left, for freedom and justice. Mr. Edelman is a realist. Go and read it. You know you want to.

Posted by Random Penseur at 08:24 AM | Comments (0)

May 20, 2004

Today in History -- Transporation Edition

Random interesting coincidences in world transportation history. Today in . . .

* 1506, Christopher Columbus died in poverty in Spain.

* 1927, Charles Lindbergh took off from Roosevelt Field in Long Island, N.Y., aboard the Spirit of St. Louis on his historic solo flight to France.

* 1932, Amelia Earhart took off from Newfoundland for Ireland to become the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic.

* 1939, regular transatlantic air service began as a Pan American Airways plane, the Yankee Clipper, took off from Port Washington, N.Y., bound for Europe.

Posted by Random Penseur at 09:31 AM | Comments (0)

May 06, 2004

Remember the movie, Chariots of Fire?

Well, today in 1954, medical student Roger Bannister broke the four-minute mile during a track meet in Oxford, England, in 3 minutes, 59.4 seconds.

Cool, huh?

Also, while we are on a today in history review, today in 1889, the Paris Exposition formally opened, featuring the just-completed Eiffel Tower. I am working on a small architecture post in its honor.

Posted by Random Penseur at 08:43 AM | Comments (0)