Uncle Orson Reviews Everything
December 9, 2010
Every Day Is Special
First appeared in print in The Rhinoceros Times
, Greensboro, NC.
Contest, Obama, Courses, Much Ado
Last week I reviewed Cindy Woodsmall's Sisters of the Quilt trilogy: When the Heart Cries,
When the Morning Comes, and When the Soul Mends. Apparently my review captured the attention
of the publisher, and they sent us five copies of the trilogy to give away to our readers.
So I'm inviting you to enter a contest, with a copy of the books for the five winning entries. But, in the
spirit of Amish romance, you have to work for it. Go online to our Quilt Trilogy contest entry form at
http://www.hatrack.com/romance , and tell us in 25 words or less what a good romance novel should
Obviously, you can't tell us everything, so let us know what you think is most important to make a
romance worth reading. The deadline is this coming Tuesday. Soon we'll have a compendium of the
winning entries plus as many of the others as possible, which we'll post online, with a few highlights in
the print edition of the Rhino.
If you're reading this on the Thursday that the Rhino hits the newsstands, remember that Handel's
Messiah is being performed tonight by the Greensboro Oratorio Society at War Memorial Auditorium
at the Coliseum!
Some of the best entertainment this holiday season has been watching President Obama writhe under
the necessity of compromising with the loathsome Republicans.
Here is how a successful president deals with unavoidable compromises:
1. He praises the new law as a great thing. Sure, it doesn't do all that he might have hoped, but it
does some important, excellent things, and all Americans should be glad.
2. He honors his opponents for having worked so hard to achieve a good law. This helps encourage
the opposition to compromise again and again, so that the President can get some of his own program
through an otherwise hostile Congress.
3. He lays out the things that he still hopes to accomplish later, presenting them in a positive way.
4. If anyone in his own party rebels, he deals with them in back rooms, making sure they understand
that if they don't vote for the compromise, they are embarrassing him in public, and he will not forget
Naturally, President Obama has done the exact opposite of this. But who is surprised?
This is the suicidal way Democrats have been behaving since they forced George H.W. Bush to break
his "no new taxes" pledge in an important compromise -- and then ridiculed him openly for having
accepted their deal instead of praising him for doing the "right thing."
Thus Democrats made it clear that they were not interested in compromising with Republicans, only in
manipulating and destroying them.
Back when President Obama had the upper hand -- huge majorities in both houses of Congress -- he
gave lip service to the idea of listening to Republicans, and then smashed them in the face with a vinegar
pie, over and over again.
In American politics, negotiating with Democrats is like negotiating with North Korea or the
Palestinians -- they'll take whatever concessions you give them, but they'll abuse you more than ever
and make you sorry you ever sat down with them.
What sticks in President Obama's craw is the fact that this time -- for the first time in his presidency --
he actually had to let the Republicans have something they wanted.
If the Republicans had been vengeful, they would have made him pay now for his treatment of them
over Health Care Reform and other issues in the past. Instead, following the wise leadership of
Speaker-to-be John Boehner, they dealt fairly -- even generously -- with President Obama.
So of course the President spent a couple of press conferences abusing them. Perhaps he got confused
and thought the Republicans were willing to deal with him because he still had some kind of political
Perhaps the President thought he was mollifying the extreme Left of his party (i.e., most of them) by
throwing a tantrum about how much he hated having to give in to the Republicans on extending the
Bush tax cuts (i.e., not raising taxes in a recession).
Instead, he was showing his fellow Democrats that he is weak, practically guaranteeing that he will be
challenged from the Left in the presidential campaign.
But maybe that's his master plan. If some lackwit who is even farther to the left than Obama runs
against him in the primaries, it may allow Obama to appear to be less of a leftwing loon himself. If the
Republicans nominate a rightwing nut case, which is always a possibility, it practically guarantees
Obama's reelection ... as a moderate.
Could he possibly be that clever?
With the new TSA body-probing policy at many airports, making the gauntlet of security screenings
even more repulsive, the idea of spending serious money to invest in great improvements in our rail
travel seems more and more attractive.
It's not that trains can't be sabotaged by terrorists. It's that if trains are blown up at the front and pile
up at the back, there are still usually a lot of survivors, because the train is already on the ground.
When California Republicans (of the nutcase caucus) mock the idea of California investing in highspeed
rail, they're missing the point.
All we want is to get from one place to another in reasonable speed and comfort. The TSA is making
the air travel experience slower and way less comfortable. Now is the time for trains that actually go
where you need them to go, on a convenient schedule.
The funniest take on the new screening policy? Check out the fake TSA advertisement from Saturday
I know this is an embarrassing thing to admit, but I love attending a good class. I'm not one of those
who went to college for the social life. In fact, even in high school what kept me going were the good
teachers and the information they had for me, not the dances, not the sports, not school spirit, not even
the fact that that's where they kept all the girls during the daytime.
Since my college days, I've continued my self-education with many thousands of books on every
subject, trying to plug the holes in my education. But books are not classes. There's something about
the way a good teacher presents information that makes it so much more intelligible and fascinating.
It's been 43 years since I graduated from high school, and 28 years since my last academic course in
graduate school. I keep itching to get back into a classroom where I'm not the teacher.
For years I've been looking at brochures from The Teaching Company's offerings called The Great
Courses -- mostly college-level classes in a broad range of topics, offered on DVD or CD or, in some
cases, by .mp3 download.
What put me off was not the price alone, but the combination of fairly high cost and the fact that I didn't
know -- couldn't know -- the quality of the course offerings unless I paid for a course and then
actually attended it. If the courses are good, then they're worth the money -- because it costs way less
than the equivalent tuition at a good college.
Well, this Christmas they've been offering some incredible sales on many of the courses that most
interested me. I picked out a course called Why Economies Rise and Fall, taught by Peter
Rodriguez, who has a nice list of credentials.
I downloaded it and listened to it on my .mp3 player while I exercised, ran errands, waited for
appointments, pumped gas, and drove on long trips.
I already understood most of the basic principles of economic theory -- I'd been absorbing bits and
pieces from Adam Smith to John Maynard Keynes and Milton Friedman.
What I got from Rodriguez was a systematic application of theories to real-world situations. There are
great economics stories, like how home-based computer-makers essentially shut out Dell, IBM, and
Hewlett-Packard from the Brazilian computer market -- but only because of self-defeating government
regulations that the big companies couldn't avoid and the little guys could.
The simple beginnings of China's economic revolution, the conditions that worked so well for the Asian
tiger economies, the story of Japan's amazing growth and subsequent depression, why India was so
poor for so long and then suddenly began to boom -- these are all fascinating stories.
Like most Americans, I had always conflated democracy with successful capitalism, but Rodriguez
forces his students to face the obvious: However desirable democracy might be for other reasons, there
is no particular relationship between democracy and economic growth.
Freedom of economic choice is essential for the free market to work its magic, but that doesn't imply
any kind of voice for the common people in how they're governed. Capitalism doesn't lead to
democracy and democracy doesn't lead to prosperity and growth, in and of itself.
This led me to think of things on my own: for instance, that there's a sort of world moral economy as
well as the financial one, where societies offer competing ways of life, and the good systems are
rewarded by the intense loyalty of their citizens, their patience in the face of hard times, their willingness
to sacrifice, and the bad systems are punished with coups, revolutions, massive emigration, or stubborn
In a way, the competition among moral systems is what Thomas Sowell has been working on in his
massive, brilliant studies of the influence of culture on various measures of success in a society. This is
something I brought to Rodriguez's course -- he never mentions Sowell or the idea of a moral
economy at all.
But that's how a good course should work. It should make you think your own thoughts and bring in
your own ideas. The drawback to a recorded course is that I can't raise my hand and try to spark a
discussion with the professor by asking a provocative question. And that's a big drawback.
For that kind of give-and-take you either have to take actual classes or enter some kind of online
college system. The trouble then is that you have to build your schedule around the classes and
deadlines of the college course; you need to meet the professor and other students in realtime.
You get academic credit for those college courses. But I'm nearly sixty, and colleges have made it
clear that they will never, never give a real professorship to a dude whose only qualifications are an
M.A. and a 35-year career in writing <shudder> science fiction and fantasy. What do I care about
academic credit? I only care about learning. Why should I ever stop?
The Great Courses will never give you a final exam or require you to write a paper. They won't give
you academic credit or let you ask questions.
But they bring you some of the best teachers anywhere -- not just knowledgeable, but also personable
and clear-spoken. They put a lot of time into their talent searches, and they do an excellent job of
making these real lectures instead of just recordings of somebody reading something.
Everybody has holes in their education, things that they wish they had learned when they were younger.
So why not use your spare time, even if it comes only in five-minute snatches, to fill in some of those
How about a gorgeously illustrated course in European art on DVD? Or a recorded course on listening
to and understanding great music? Or delve into history, economics, zoology, botany, geology. Maybe
you feel, as I did, a practical need to learn about economics, finance, mathematics. Maybe it's public
speaking or writing, religion or ... or ... wine tasting that you want to learn about. They've got
something for you.
Right now -- but for only a little while longer -- they're selling 180 of their best selling courses for
70% off. Go online at http://www.TheGreatCourses.com . Click on the red-lettered "Special Sale -
70% Off" tag on the upper left.
Whether it's The Art of Critical Decision Making or Terror of History: Mystics, Heretics, and
Witches in the Western Tradition; whether it's Introduction to the Study of Religion or a two-course set combining The Human Body: how We Fail, How We Heal and Nutrition Made Clear,
you'll be delighted with the detailed course descriptions, the credentials of the professors, and, during
this sale, the prices.
That set on the human body and nutrition? Normally a combined price of $629.90, but right now only
$149.90. Sixty lectures at thirty minutes per lecture.
For instance, I just bought a course on Understanding Linguistics, taught by the brilliant John
McWhorter -- already one of my favorite writers. The normal price for the course is $374.95. But I
These prices are so good that I couldn't resist buying some of them as gifts for people I know well
enough to be sure they'll appreciate receiving a course of such high quality.
Of course, I can hear my children and other relatives saying, Oh, great, apparently I'm getting a class
Yeah, well, live with it. I can't make them actually attend the class. But it'll be there, and I'm willing
to wager that if they attend one lecture, on DVD or CD, they'll eagerly go on and attend all the rest,
and be glad they invested the time when it's over.
Especially for people my age and older, the love of learning hasn't ended even if the practical need to
get a degree has. If we ever stop wanting to learn new things, why are we alive? I can't think of a
better gift for people who have retired, especially if they already have pretty much everything they
actually need. This is a gift that they can love.
The drama program at Weaver Center is serious about training their students in all the skills of
theatre. And that includes the works of our greatest playwright, Shakespeare -- even though the plays
can be difficult because the passage of time has changed both our language and culture.
Tonight and on through the weekend, the Weaver production of Much Ado About Nothing shows
these talented students at their best. Lindsey Clinton-Kraack has directed them in a stripped-down,
fast-moving version of the story, with cool costumes that suggest a sort of timelessness which suits the
Because the language is so hard and the (in my opinion unnecessary) background music sometimes
distracts, let me give you the rough outline of the plot. Foremost is the story of Beatrice and Benedick
(played delightfully by Emma Milunic and Sam Jones) -- for though theirs is not the main plot, they are
the source of most of the delight of the comedy.
Benedick is a laid-back fellow who has no use for the idea of marriage. He's not going to fall in love;
he's not going to marry. Beatrice enjoys sparring with him verbally, and they trade gibe for gibe in
some of Shakespeare's most delightful war-of-the-sexes quarrels. To everyone else it is obvious that
the two of them can't get enough of each other's company, so they contrive to let each of them
overhear gossip about how much the other one is secretly in love. The joke works as hoped, and they
go from cool unconcern to passionate love in no time.
The other plot is a bit more complicated and darker -- but darkness is at the heart of most comedy.
Young Claudio has fallen in love with the lovely Hero (in classical times "Hero" was a female name; I
have no idea how it ever became a term for stout-hearted men!). Don Pedro, the Duke of Arragon
[sic], carries Claudio's offer of love to Hero and in short order she and Claudio are betrothed.
For pure malice, Don John, Pedro's illegitimate brother, arranges for the Duke and Claudio to be
eyewitnesses to Hero's receiving a lover into her room late at night. Actually, it is one of John's
henchmen trysting with a serving maid, but he calls her loudly by Hero's name, and in the darkness
Pedro and Claudio believe that they have caught Hero being a tramp.
When it's time for the wedding, Claudio accuses Hero and the duke backs up his accusation; after they
are gone, those who believe in Hero's innocence pretend that she has died of grief, in order to make
Claudio and the duke regret having believed false stories about her.
The truth comes out through the third plotline -- the story of the idiotic constable, Dogberry, who tries
to talk like an educated man and gets all the words wrong. Dogberry and his men hear the henchmen
talking about their "prank" and bring them to court, where the truth comes out.
Many of the male parts in the play have been changed to women -- Hero's father, Leonato, is
transformed into a mother, Leonata. Some male parts, like Dogberry (Leigha Sinnott), remain sort of
male but are played by women.
Not all the actors in this production are able to deal with Shakespeare's dialogue equally well, but some
of them -- Sam Jones as Benedick, Cara Farlow as Leonata, and a few others -- are so clear and
loud that we never miss a word.
Comedy is hard, and Shakespeare's comedy, which depends so much on puns and wit, is even harder.
If at times I wished that Dogberry's group did not strain so hard for comic effect, I have to remember
that they are actually much better than Michael Keaton and company when he played Dogberry in the
Kenneth Branagh-directed movie of Much Ado.
In fact, it's often helpful to compare productions of Shakespeare's plays with the often dreadful movies
that have been made of them. I think of Zeffirelli's hit version of Romeo & Juliet, for instance, which
completely misunderstands the first two acts and offers us the most self-indulgent, unlikeable Mercutio
ever to perform the role. Zeffirelli's Taming of the Shrew takes Richard Burton and Liz Taylor and
makes them unwatchably bad; the wooing scene goes on forever without even a speck of amusement.
Kenneth Branagh's Much Ado has the luminous Emma Thompson as Beatrice, but Branagh cast
himself as Benedick and the movie suffers greatly for the choice -- he doesn't have the acting chops to
make him likeable, and he didn't have a good enough director to help him find both the depth and the
shallowness of the character.
Branagh didn't know what to do with Keanu Reeves as Don John, and he allowed Michael Keaton to
go off the deep end into utter unintelligibility (and unfunniness) as Dogberry.
So, compared to the movie, the Weaver production is, in many ways, better. Funnier. Warmer.
The show starts at 7 p.m. on Dec. 9th, 10th, and 11th, and at 2 p.m. on Sunday, Dec. 12th. The price is
$6 for students and $8 for adults. Come and see your tax dollars (and our talented kids!) at work --
or, I should say, at play!
Every Day Is Special
First appeared in print in The Rhinoceros Times
, Greensboro, NC.
Thursday, Dec. 9 -- Frozen Food Day
Clarence Birdseye was born on this day in 1886. He grew up to invent a method of deep-freezing
food, and his name continues to adorn packages of frozen vegetables and other edibles in the grocery
Of course, his invention would have been useless if someone else hadn't invented the freezer, and if
electricity hadn't become commonly available in most American households, and if there weren't a
network of roads and railroads on which frozen goods could be transported even at the height of
For me, this frozen food thing is a mixed blessing. You see, I love the taste of canned string beans. But
frozen beans taste horrible to me. Nasty. Spit-it-out-now badness.
As a kid, I always thought this was because freezing the beans ruined them. But no. One day I tasted
fresh green beans and they were just like the frozen stuff. It was the canning process that
transformed the flavor -- from something I hated into something I liked.
(Fortunately, I later discovered haricot verts, a French variety of bean that tastes even better than the
canned string beans. Fresh Market usually has haricot verts, and in the summer I grow them in my
back yard, so I can have good beans whenever I want.)
And, of course, we can also freeze food ourselves. For instance, we've learned that it's a good idea to
overbuy bread or rolls at Great Harvest Bread Company every now and then. We freeze the extras,
so that if a week comes along when we miss our Friday bread run (the day they bake challah bread --
it's not just for Jews anymore!), we can thaw the freezer bread and be just fine.
Of course, you have to wait for frozen foods to thaw. And they never seem to thaw as fast as I want
them to. Or evenly, for that matter. Ever open a package of frozen corn or peas, only to find that while
the outside of the brick is hot, in the middle there's still a frozen lump?
OK, so maybe I'm the only one that happens to.
So many foods are sold in frozen form that it's hard to imagine what it was like when you could only get
foods when they were in season -- or in canned form. Slaves to nature, that's what we were! So:
Clarence Birdseye, I salute you. You changed the world. It made you rich, but it also enriched our
Puritan poet John Milton was born on this day in 1608. He was active in the English Civil War
between the Puritans under Oliver Cromwell and the forces of the King. Cromwell won, the king died,
and John Milton went blind and wrote Paradise Lost.
The thing is, I studied Milton in grad school and the scholars who wrote about him were mostly kind of
pathetic. They traced every book Milton ever read, or might have read, searching for influences and
allusions. But they completely ignored the fact that Milton wrote Paradise Lost as a believer, and he
wrote it for believers.
To Puritans, the fall of man in the garden of Eden was the complete explanation for all the suffering and
evil in the world. We are fallen, and stand in need of redemption, which comes to us by grace alone, he
believed. If you don't understand that, and remember it all the time while reading Paradise Lost, you
have no chance of understanding the poem at all.
Nowadays, it seems that scholars and critics simply assume that writers are unbelievers. It's as if
disbelief were the orthodoxy of our time. They seem shocked when a writer of fiction or poetry is
revealed to be an ardent believer or practitioner of a religion.
I've had interviews with people who were absolutely shocked to realize that I not only grew up a
Mormon, but that I still believe in God and Jesus and all that other religion stuff. "But you ... you seem
so intelligent in your books," one of them actually said to me.
My answer: "Well, now you've learned something: Intelligent people sometimes believe in God. If you
got out more, you might even find out that most people who believe in God are intelligent."
John Milton. Great poet. Ardent Puritan. But now I have a confession to make. I don't like Milton's
writing very much. And I think it comes down to this: I think his writing keeps calling attention to itself,
distracting from the story that he's supposed to be telling. To me, it's as if he kept getting up on stage
in front of the actors and saying, "Did you hear how cleverly I worded that?"
But that's the great secret of literary studies. Just because a writer is great doesn't mean you have any
obligation to pretend to like his work. It's just like any other field of work. Yeah, Wayne Gretzky was
a great hockey player -- but that doesn't mean I would have liked watching him play hockey, because
I don't like watching hockey anyway.
Milton was a great poet, but I'm not giving him another hour of my reading time. I've got other writers
that I like better, and new writers whose work I want to explore, so ... Mr. Milton, you've had all of
the time I'm going to give you in my whole life. But, congrats on being great, all the same. And happy
Friday, Dec. 10 -- Dewey Decimal Day
Melvil Dewey was born on this day in 1851, in a world where each library used its own organizing
system -- often resulting in chaos.
One library might list all its "biology" books together in alphabetical order.
But which alphabetical order?
By author? How does that help?
By title? Ditto. In many libraries, the librarians held the system in their head. "You need a book that
discusses western American lizards? I think Sceloporus g. graciosos is well treated in ... this book
When Melvil Dewey grew up and got control of a library, he devised a rational system that any library
could use. Every book was assigned a number. The first digits would assign it to a broad general
category, like botany or astronomy or history. Then there'd be a decimal point, and after it you'd have
all the divisions of that topic, and the subdivisions, and sub-subdivisions.
Then the books were shelved in numerical order. You could tell instantly where a book was supposed
to be reshelved; and when you found the book in a card catalogue, you simply walked to the exact spot
where that number was supposed to be, and there it was. Unless some bozo had neglected to return it.
The Dewey Decimal System spread like wildfire and it remains the rule today -- particularly because it
can be infinitely expanded. Look on the back of the title page of every book you own, and chances are
that most of them have the Dewey Decimal information already there.
It's not the only system. The Library of Congress uses its own numbering method and a few libraries
follow that one.
Publishers and booksellers use the ISBN number (International Standard Book Number) to provide a
unique identification for every book -- but that one is organized by nation and publishing company.
Dewey didn't stop with libraries. He was an advocate of American adoption of the metric system (we
were the first with metric money, the last to hold out against metric everything else).
He advocated spelling reform, too -- as do I. Why are we cursed with one-syllable words like
"through" and "though" and "thought," which hold the echoes of pronunciations we haven't used in five
centuries? You can't divide them at the end of a line when you're working with narrow columns, and
foreigners throw up their hands in despair.
Someday I'm going to persuade one of my publishers to let me spell them "thru" and "tho" and "thot" in
my books. Then Dewey and I will be buddies in the afterlife -- because, of course, I'll be killed almost
at once by spelling purists.
Emily Dickinson, arguably America's greatest poet, was born on this day in 1830. She was reclusive,
mysterious, and frail in health. Cheap modern psychology might diagnose her as severely depressed
and pathologically shy.
Seven of her poems were published during her life, but after her death her sister, Lavinia, discovered
almost 2,000 more poems written on the backs of envelopes and other scraps of paper locked in her
bureau. They were published gradually, over 50 years, beginning in 1890.
Because she used punctuation -- idiosyncratically -- like this with -- dashes wherever she felt like
putting -- them, editors generally repunctuated and edited her poems. Only in the past few decades
have they been available in their original forms.
Her poems include great passages like:
"Success is counted sweetest / By those who ne'er succeed."
"If I can stop one heart from breaking, / I shall not live in vain."
"Much madness is divinest sense / To a discerning eye."
"Assent, and you are sane; / Demur, -- you're straightway dangerous, / And handled with a chain."
And here's a complete little poem, one of my favorites:
I'm nobody! Who are you?
Are you nobody, too?
Then there's a pair of us -- don't tell!
They'd banish us, you know.
How dreary to be somebody!
How public, like a frog
To tell your name the livelong day
To an admiring bog!
Read all her works at http://www.bartleby.com/113/ .
The first Grand Ole Opry broadcast took place on this day in 1927, bringing country music to
millions and fame and wealth to the stars the show created.
Saturday, Dec. 11 -- International Shareware Day
On Shareware Day, take time to reward the efforts of thousands of computer programmers who trust
that if we try their programs for free, and like them, we will pay for them.
Look at your PC or Mac and see if you're using any shareware. If you like it and use it, and haven't
yet paid for it, write that check and send it to the creator of the program. Or if you have the stripped-down free version, get online and buy the full program.
Do that enough, and great shareware will keep on coming.
On my computers, I'm using the best wallpaper-rotation software I've found, WallMaster. Actually, I
pay for WallMaster Pro on every computer I control, so I cycle through several thousand photos and
artworks on my desktop, changing every ten minutes.
I also use Virtual CD, by H+H Software, a German company. It allows me to copy some CDs onto
my hard drive so that they're present to allow commercial software to run properly without having to
carry around the actual CD. I also use it to create CDs from overprotected music files; then I "rip" the
virtual CD to create unprotected .MP3s, so I can copy them to the other computers I use without
having to ask anyone's permission.
I also use NoteWhen, from PC Magazine's free utilities -- it creates sticky notes on my desktop,
which I can hide or reveal at will.
Mozilla Firefox, Adobe Reader, Apple Quicktime and iTunes -- these are also provided free, and
because of that they have become ubiquitous.
So yes, there are software packages that cost an arm and a leg. But there are also terrific programs
that you can use for free. But if they have a payment option, go ahead and plunk down the money.
This is the National Day of the Horse. Horses aren't the only animals that have worked for us.
We've reshaped dogs -- our first domesticated animal companion -- so thoroughly that their brains
really have become more humanlike than the other canine species.
Oxen, camels, dromedaries, llamas, donkeys -- they've served us well, carrying our burdens, pulling
our wagons and chariots, and, when needed, carrying us.
Horses, though, have a level of speed and strength that makes them the Porsche or Lexus of four-footed beasts. The trouble was, we couldn't use them to pull our carts for a long time, because of the
way their bodies are arranged.
They carry their heads high, so we can't rest a yoke across their necks. We can't run a tight strap
across their chests because we cut off their air. Not until we invented the horse collar, a rigid but
padded frame that rides in front of their shoulders but doesn't put a bar across their neck or chest, were
we able to use them to pull anything heavy.
Horses carried soldiers into combat early on -- but only archers could fight from horseback (that's
what the "Parthian shot" was all about). If you struck at someone with lance or saber while going at full
gallop, the impact would knock you from the horse's back.
It took the invention of the stirrup to give riders a way to brace themselves against impact -- basically,
to give them a place to stand. Until the stirrup spread across Europe late in the first millennium ce,
soldiers would ride horses into battle, then dismount so they could fight.
Then, in the 1900s, cars swept horses off the road. Not literally, of course. But cars were cleaner and
cheaper to operate. You didn't have to feed the car when you weren't using it. The car might pollute
the air, but it didn't poop in the street. The car didn't get sick. Horses found out what it felt like to be
replaced by machines about the same time people did.
Still, horses are noble animals, and riding a horse gives you a sense of partnership that no car can ever
give. If you've never ridden a horse, go to a good riding stable; even one of their more placid animals
gives you a notion of what top-of-the-line transportation used to be like.
And if you get serious about it, you can take lessons and learn to ride the more spirited animals. To
ride a running horse -- if you know how to do it -- is glorious.
Of course, horses don't necessarily like you as their rider. The smart ones know that if they gallop
under low-hanging branches, they no longer have to worry about some human on their backs.
Sunday, Dec. 12 -- Poinsettia Day
Joel Roberts Poinsett, the American diplomat who brought to America the Central American plant
that is named for him, died on this day in 1851. Poinsett was a physician, a botanist, and an American
statesman who served in Congress and as secretary of war.
On this day in 2000, the U.S. Supreme Court put an end to the Florida State Supreme Court's
attempt to steal the presidential election for Al Gore by allowing a selective recount of Gore-friendly
districts in Florida to continue.
The Florida court had flouted their own state's laws in order to get the desired outcome in a national
election. Even though the Leftist media painted the U.S. Supreme Court decision as "handing the
election to Bush," all they did was stop the Florida court from illegally handing the election to Gore.
It all began with the news media, of course. Against their own announced rules, the TV networks
called the election when the polls were still open in the largely conservative Florida panhandle, which
(as expected) suppressed the vote in the most Republican part of the state. That's the only reason the
election was even close enough for Gore to try to steal it.
Yet despite all the machinations of Richard Daly's Chicago-trained election-stealing squad, there was
no recount that actually gave Gore a majority in Florida. Bush won the state, and deserved to have its
electoral votes. The Supreme Court essentially said, You can't change the rules after the game is over,
just because you think the wrong team won.
Monday, Dec. 13 -- Korean War Day
The islands now called New Zealand were first sighted by Europeans on this day in 1642. Captain
Abel Tasman of the Dutch East India Company first sighted New Zealand, but was kept from landing
by Maori warriors. In 1769 Captain James Cook landed and claimed formal possession for Great
Britain. The Maoris later concluded that they had been right the first time, but by then it was too late to
get rid of the English.
The Korean War came to a sluggish end on this day in ... 1991?
The largescale fighting ended in 1953, when a ceasefire was signed and POWs were returned. But
officially the war was still ongoing, and both sides remained heavily militarized until the signing, 38 years
later, of a treaty of "reconciliation and nonaggression" between North and South Korea, formally
ending the war.
Recent events, however, show that whenever the clowns who have set themselves up as little tin gods in
the North want to, the fighting can resume. Only now they have nukes.
Tuesday, Dec. 14 -- South Pole Day
Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen reached the South Pole on this day in 1911 -- what was a
week before midsummer in that hemisphere. Amundsen was accompanied by four other men and 52
sled dogs. All five men and 12 of the dogs returned to their base camp safely.
A month later, Robert F. Scott's British expedition reached the pole on 17 January 1912. His
entire expedition died on the return trip. This was neither the end of the British Empire nor the
beginning of a Norwegian Empire. In fact, its significance was entirely social: Look, humans did this
And it was a hard thing. The South Pole is the harshest environment on Earth. I guess that's why the
aliens hid their giant spaceship under the ice there -- they knew we wouldn't find it and dig it up until it
was too late.
Wednesday, Dec. 15 -- Bill of Rights Day
The first 10 amendments to the US Constitution, known as the Bill of Rights, became effective
following ratification by Virginia on this day in 1791. Until these amendments were added, the
Constitution had been little more than the organizing document for the federal government; with the
passage of the Bill of Rights, it also became the guarantor of freedom from federal overreaching.
Sadly, these rights only last as long as the courts and other branches of government respect them. The
First Amendment, which requires that there be no law impeding the "free exercise of religion," is in the
process of being moved into the dustbin of history. Going, going, ...
Davy Crockett premiered as five segments of Walt Disney's Disneyland show, starting on this day in
1954 -- arguably the first miniseries. It starred Fess Parker as Davy Crockett, a self-promoting
Congressman who created his own extravagant legend and then died at the Alamo. The real Crockett
never wore a coonskin cap, but the TV version did, and so kids all over America were wearing them
for a while.
I can still sing the theme song: "Born on a mountaintop in Tennessee, / Greenest state in the land of the
free, / Raised in the woods so he knew every tree, / Kilt him a b'ar when he was only three: Davy!
Davy Crockett! King of the wild frontier!"
That's pretty good, considering I'm working from memory -- and the show was broadcast when I was
The movie version of Gone with the Wind premiered on this day in Atlanta in 1939. If you don't
know why it premiered in Atlanta, you really need to see the movie or read the book. (The movie is
good; the book is better ... but longer.)
In real dollars, GWTW remained the top money-making film of all time for many years. It also won an
unprecedented eight Academy Awards, including Best Picture. Hattie McDaniel, who played
"Mammy," won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar -- the first time an African-American actor had
won or even been nominated.
African-American actors Ethel Waters (1949), Dorothy Dandridge (1954), Sidney Poitier (1958), and
Juanita Moore (1959) were nominated, but the next Oscar win for an African-American was Poitier's
Best Actor award in 1963 for Lilies of the Field, 24 years after Hattie McDaniel's Oscar.