Monday, May 24, 2010

Mark Twain Uncensored: Autobiography to be Published after 100 Year Wait

Mark Twain sure knows how to sell books. He spent the last decade of his life working on a no holds bar autobiography that amounts to roughly 5000 pages of manuscript. While he published some excerpts of this book when the precarious state of his finances forced him too, the rest has remained vaulted in an archive at the University of California, Berkeley….until now. Twain dictated that his autobiography not be published until 100 years after his death (he sure knew how to create anticipation). Now, the University is prepping the autobiography to be published in three volumes.
Why did Twain not want to publish it in his lifetime? Well, as various sources with knowledge of the manuscript have hinted, it contains his candid views on issues such as religion and imperialism that might have hurt his celebrity in early 20th century America. He had doubts about God, and disliked imperialists like Teddy Roosevelt for rushing into the Spanish American War. The book also contains hundreds of pages of invective about Isabel Van Kleek Lyon, Twain’s personal secretary. Hired after the death of his wife Olivia in 1904, the two became extremely close only to have Twain fire Lyon in 1909. Apparently, it was not an amicable parting, and Twain tells the world how he really felt about her in his forthcoming autobiography. I’m curious to read it when it comes out, how about you?

[Image via Berkeley]

Monday, May 17, 2010

Brown vs. Board of Ed is Decided


In a major civil rights victory, the U.S. Supreme Court hands down an unanimous decision in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, ruling that racial segregation in public educational facilities is unconstitutional. The historic decision, which brought an end to federal tolerance of racial segregation, specifically dealt with Linda Brown, a young African American girl who had been denied admission to her local elementary school in Topeka, Kansas, because of the color of her skin.

In 1896, the Supreme Court ruled in Plessy v. Ferguson that "separate but equal" accommodations in railroad cars conformed to the 14th Amendment's guarantee of equal protection. That ruling was used to justify segregating all public facilities, including elementary schools. However, in the case of Linda Brown, the white school she attempted to attend was far superior to her black alternative and miles closer to her home. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) took up Linda's cause, and in 1954 Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka reached the Supreme Court. African American lawyer (and future Supreme Court justice) Thurgood Marshall led Brown's legal team, and on May 17, 1954, the high court handed down its decision.

In an opinion written by Chief Justice Earl Warren, the nation's highest court ruled that not only was the "separate but equal" doctrine unconstitutional in Linda's case, it was unconstitutional in all cases because educational segregation stamped an inherent badge of inferiority on African American students. A year later, after hearing arguments on the implementation of their ruling, the Supreme Court published guidelines requiring public school systems to integrate "with all deliberate speed."

The Brown v. Board of Education decision served to greatly motivate the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s and ultimately led to the abolishment of racial segregation in all public facilities and accommodations.

Here is a clip from a PBS documentary on the Supreme Court and the Brown vs. Board of Education decision:

[Image via MyWonderfulWorld]

Thursday, May 13, 2010

When the Saints Go Marching In

On this day in 1938, Louis Armstrong and his orchestra recorded “When the Saints Go Marching In” at Decca Records. The song is a spiritual from the American gospel tradition that is frequently played as part of a funeral march in New Orleans, Louisiana. On the way to the cemetery the song is played in a slow musical dirge. When leaving the cemetery after the burial, the song is played again in the more familiar dixieland style. Louis Armstrong is credited with making the song familiar to American audiences after recording it in 1938.  
As the song is so closely associated with New Orleans, it seems appropriate to remember the recording of this song at a time when Louisiana and the rest of the Gulf states are experiencing very real economic and environmental tragedies in the weeks since the oil rig explosion. Here’s hoping BP is held responsible for their actions, and the people of the Gulf can rebound from this devastating turn of events. 

Here is Louis Armstrong and his band performing the song:

[Image via newton]

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Dust Bowl Begins in 1934

On this day in 1934, a massive storm sends millions of tons of topsoil flying from across the parched Great Plains region of the United States as far east as New York, Boston and Atlanta.

At the time the Great Plains were settled in the mid-1800s, the land was covered by prairie grass, which held moisture in the earth and kept most of the soil from blowing away even during dry spells. By the early 20th century, however, farmers had plowed under much of the grass to create fields. The U.S. entry into World War I in 1917 caused a great need for wheat, and farms began to push their fields to the limit, plowing under more and more grassland with the newly invented tractor. The plowing continued after the war, when the introduction of even more powerful gasoline tractors sped up the process. During the 1920s, wheat production increased by 300 percent, causing a glut in the market by 1931.

That year, a severe drought spread across the region. As crops died, wind began to carry dust from the over-plowed and over-grazed lands. The number of dust storms reported jumped from 14 in 1932 to 28 in 1933. The following year, the storms decreased in frequency but increased in intensity, culminating in the most severe storm yet in May 1934. Over a period of two days, high-level winds caught and carried some 350 million tons of silt all the way from the northern Great Plains to the eastern seaboard. According to The New York Times, dust "lodged itself in the eyes and throats of weeping and coughing New Yorkers," and even ships some 300 miles offshore saw dust collect on their decks.

The dust storms forced thousands of families from Texas, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Colorado, Kansas and New Mexico to uproot and migrate to California, where they were derisively known as "Okies"--no matter which state they were from. These transplants found life out West not much easier than what they had left, as work was scarce and pay meager during the worst years of the Great Depression.

Another massive storm on April 15, 1935--known as "Black Sunday"--brought even more attention to the desperate situation in the Great Plains region, which reporter Robert Geiger called the "Dust Bowl." That year, as part of its New Deal program, President Franklin D. Roosevelt's administration began to enforce federal regulation of farming methods, including crop rotation, grass-seeding and new plowing methods. This worked to a point, reducing dust storms by up to 65 percent, but only the end of the drought in the fall of 1939 would truly bring relief.


Here is some footage of the Dust Bowl from a "Year in Review" newsreel about 1934. The Dust Bowl footage starts around 40 seconds in:

Monday, May 10, 2010

Rumble over Alaska's Anthem

Check out this NY Times article on the ongoing fight over adding a second verse to Alaska's state song, "Alaska's Flag." Since the 1950s, many have been trying to modify the state anthem to acknowledge Alaska's indigenous peoples. Here is the original verse of the song:

Eight stars of gold on a field of blue -
Alaska's flag. May it mean to you
The blue of the sea, the evening sky,
The mountain lakes, and the flow'rs nearby;
The gold of the early sourdough's dreams,
The precious gold of the hills and streams;
The brilliant stars in the northern sky,
The "Bear" - the "Dipper" - and, shining high,
The great North Star with its steady light,
Over land and sea a beacon bright.
Alaska's flag - to Alaskans dear,
The simple flag of a last frontier. 

This verse was written by Marie Drake in the 1930s. It references the gold rush that led many Americans to Alaska to seek their fortune. What it does not mention are the indigenous people who were there first, whose culture also makes up Alaska's state history. This was an oversight that Alaska's 1967 Poet Laureate, Carol Beery Davis, attempted to correct by writing a second verse:

A native lad chose our Dipper’s stars

For Alaska’s flag that there be no bars
Among our cultures. Be it known
Through years our natives’ past has grown
To share our treasures, hand in hand,
To keep Alaska our Great Land. 

A children’s choir performed the state song, with the added second verse, this year on the floor of the state’s House of Representatives. However, when a resolution came before state lawmakers to officially add the second verse to the state song, it could not garner enough votes to pass. Some who opposed the move claimed the song is a “historical artifact” that must be preserved. What do you think? Do you think this second verse affects the song adversely? Do you think there should be a verse about being able to see Russia from your front lawn?

[Image via Salon]

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Perfection on Mother's Day: Dallas Braden Makes Baseball History

Sunday was notable not only for the fact that it honored mothers everywhere (love ya Mom!), it also saw a rare perfect game pitched by Dallas Braden of the Oakland A's. (See the Los Angelas Times' coverage of the game). His amazing game was only the 19th perfect game ever pitched in the history of major league baseball. Braden was emotional after the game when he met his grandmother in front of the dugout. His mother died from skin cancer when Braden was a senior in high school, so his grandmother played a large role in his upbringing. This is the stuff movies are made of. 

Take a look at this gallery of the other 18 perfect games going back to 1880!

27 up, 27 down : Photo Gallery

Here's a video of the last three outs of the game:

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

$24 Can Buy You an Island….in 1626

Today in 1626, Peter Minuet landed in modern day Manhattan. He later bought the island called New Amsterdam for $24 worth of cloth and brass buttons. This might be the most one sided real estate deal ever executed when we think of how expensive little shoebox apartments are these days in Manhattan.
Peter Minuet was born in modern day Germany into a world torn apart by the Reformation. Minuet and his family settled in an area that was safe for Protestants. At the age of 45, Minuet was selected as the third director-general of New Netherland by the Dutch West India Company. He set sail for North America and arrived in the colony on May 4, 1626.
The most famous story of Minuet’s time in New Netherlands is how he purchased Manhattan from natives for 60 guilders, which is usually converted to $24. Some of have doubted this conversion rate in recent years. In 2006, the Institute for Social History of Amsterdam found that 60 guilders in 1626 had the approximate value of about $1000.  There is also a belief that Minuet traded more goods than just cloth and brass buttons for the land. He may have also traded more useful items such as axe heads, hoes and wampum in addition to “cloth and brass buttons” Whatever his actions, he was recalled to Europe in 1632 and suspended from his post. Minuet later became involved in an effort to establish the first Swedish colony in the New World just south of New Netherland.  While in the process of settling New Sweden, Minuet perished in shipwreck in the Caribbean while attempting to trade tobacco.
            This narrative of New Netherland only serves to reinforce the degree to which the Native Americans were taken advantage of in the settlement of the “New World.”

[Image via coromandal

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Empire State Building Dedicated

On this day in 1931, President Herbert Hoover officially dedicates New York City's Empire State Building, pressing a button from the White House that turns on the building's lights. Hoover's gesture, of course, was symbolic; while the president remained in Washington, D.C., someone else flicked the switches in New York.

The idea for the Empire State Building is said to have been born of a competition between Walter Chrysler of the Chrysler Corporation and John Jakob Raskob of General Motors, to see who could erect the taller building. Chrysler had already begun work on the famous Chrysler Building, the gleaming 1,046-foot skyscraper in midtown Manhattan. Not to be bested, Raskob assembled a group of well-known investors, including former New York Governor Alfred E. Smith. The group chose the architecture firm Shreve, Lamb and Harmon Associates to design the building. The Art-Deco plans, said to have been based in large part on the look of a pencil, were also builder-friendly: The entire building went up in just over a year, under budget (at $40 million) and well ahead of schedule. During certain periods of building, the frame grew an astonishing four-and-a-half stories a week.

At the time of its completion, the Empire State Building, at 102 stories and 1,250 feet high (1,454 feet to the top of the lightning rod), was the world's tallest skyscraper. The Depression-era construction employed as many as 3,400 workers on any single day, most of whom received an excellent pay rate, especially given the economic conditions of the time. The new building imbued New York City with a deep sense of pride, desperately needed in the depths of the Great Depression, when many city residents were unemployed and prospects looked bleak. The grip of the Depression on New York's economy was still evident a year later, however, when only 25 percent of the Empire State's offices had been rented.

In 1972, the Empire State Building lost its title as world's tallest building to New York's World Trade Center, which itself was the tallest skyscraper for but a year. Today the honor belongs to Taiwan's Taipei 101 building, which stretches 1,670 feet into the sky.

[Image via gebouwenwereld]