Every Day Is Special
First appeared in print in The Rhinoceros Times
, Greensboro, NC.
Sumner, Common Sense, and Silicon Valley
Thursday, January 6th -- Epiphany
Epiphany or "Twelfth Day" was known also as "Old Christmas Day" and "Twelfthtide." On the 12th
day after Christmas, Christians traditionally celebrate the visit of the Magi, the first Gentile recognition
of Christ -- though there is no indication in the New Testament that the "wise men" were not Jewish
scholars from the huge Jewish community inside Parthia.
And the fact that Herod went after boys under two suggests the wise men did not arrive till Jesus was a
toddler: "Then Herod, when he had privily called the wise men, enquired of them diligently what time
the star appeared" (Matt. 2:7)
At any rate, just as Boxing Day is the traditional day for going to the store to exchange unwanted or
illfitting gifts, so Epiphany is the day when recipients of the 12 days of Christmas are expected to tell the
leaping lords, dancing ladies, milkmaids, drummers, and pipers to hit the road. The supper menu
traditionally includes three hens in bearnaise sauce.
Joan of Arc was born on this day in 1412 at the French village of Domremy in the Meuse River valley.
After inspiring the French military and leading them to repeated victories on behalf of King Charles VII
of France, she was captured by the English, tried by an ecclesiastical court for her heresy in claiming to
have been spoken to by three Saints, and burned to death at the stake on 30 May 1431 at 19 years
The court that convicted her was as Catholic as those who declared her to be a Saint years later. Her
fame is undying, and her victories ultimately led to French unity and England's loss of nearly all her
possessions on the mainland of Europe. Whereupon the English sailed out and created the world's
largest and most farflung empire, on which the sun never set. So in the long run St. Jeanne d'Arc was
good for both England and France.
Today is the 200th anniversary of the birth of Charles Sumner in 1811. Born in Boston, Sumner
served as senator from Massachusetts from 1851 to 1874. Leader of the Radical Republicans, he
opposed any compromise with the South on slavery.
In 1856, he was attacked with a walking stick in the Senate chamber by South Carolina Congressman
Preston Brooks, who resorted to the usual tactics of those who know they have neither reason nor
rectitude on their side. The attack was so savage Sumner needed three years to recuperate.
Many Southerners reacted to the beating the way many Palestinians and other Muslims reacted to 9/11
-- with rejoicing. Brooks was sent new canes to replace the one he had broken over Sumner's head,
and other people wanted pieces of the broken cane, so they could display them as "holy relics."
Northerners regarded the beating as an act of barbarism, and the approval of Southerners as proof that
reason and debate were useless with such people, which proved to be true.
Until Sumner returned to the Senate, his chair sat empty as a silent rebuke to the South for the violence.
When Sumner returned, he gave a fiery speech entitled "The Barbarism of Slavery." This time no one
If this had all happened today, no doubt Sumner would have formed an outreach initiative to try to
achieve understanding of a culture that maintained ownership of other human beings by force. After all,
it would be considered outrageous for Sumner and those other Radical Republicans to presume to
judge that their own moral values were somehow superior to those of people whose culture
happened to encourage slavery.
Of course, if that had been the attitude in those days, there would have been no Civil War, and who
knows how long it would have taken for American blacks to be set free?
Or perhaps we should learn the opposite lesson: that when someone resorts to violence in order to
defend or advance a vile anti-freedom moral code (like, for instance, Sharia law as interpreted by the
Taliban and Al Qaeda and the Iranian theocrats) decent people will speak up and demand resistance
on the basis that there is a real difference between good and evil, and we are responsible for identifying
the difference and acting on it.
Friday, January 7th --Transatlantic Telephone Day
Commercial transatlantic phoning began today in 1927 between New York and London. There were
31 calls made the first day. Reception was faint enough that Brits repeatedly said, "Eh, what?" for the
first time in history.
Millard Fillmore, 13th President of the United States, was born on this day in 1800. He succeeded
to the presidency upon the death of Zachary Taylor, but his own party did not nominate him in 1952.
He ran for president in 1856 as the candidate of the "Know-Nothing Party," whose platform
demanded, among other things, that every government employee should be a native-born citizen.
Fillmore lost that election -- and ever since then, anti-immigrant candidates have lost in most elections
to federal office. Apparently, most Americans remember, in the voting booth, that they descend from
people who came to America as foreigners hoping to improve the lives of their children and
One of the most evil and murderous government in all of human history, the Communist government led
by Pol Pot was overthrown on this day in 1979 by the combined forces of Cambodian rebels and
invading Communist Vietnamese soldiers.
Pol Pot, a convert to the atheistic religion of Marxism, had sought to advance Communism by
slaughtering a quarter of the population of his own country, on the grounds that that was the only way to
get rid of the "class enemy" -- the upper and middle classes. The "laboring class" that survived was
essentially enslaved as well. All this was done, of course, for their own good.
Pol Pot's government forced Cambodian Muslims to eat pork, and those who refused were murdered.
And somehow, with these facts in evidence, radical atheists blame religions that believe in God for all
the evil and intolerance in the world. The fact is that this is the kind of thing that fanatical, hate-filled human beings do, regardless of whether their belief system includes any kind of god.
Pol Pot died of an apparent heart attack in 1998, just after his arrest and before he could be tried for
his crimes against humanity. Or you might think of it as God asserting jurisdiction over the case.
Saturday, January 8th --Monopoly Break-up Day
On this day in 1982, AT& was forced to spin off 22 local Bell System companies that provided local
telephone service around the country. At the time, I was skeptical -- it made sense to me for phone
service to be a regulated monopoly, because the public service of vocal communication was so
Since then, as phone companies proliferated, rates have fallen and phone use has greatly expanded.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Postal Service's monopoly on mail delivery was broken by competition from
UPS, Fedex, and other services.
But it's worth remembering that part of the reason the breakup had such generally good results is that
government regulations required local phone companies to make their wiring equally accessible to all
competing long-distance carriers. So the free market was able to work its magic -- within the high
fence of rational regulation in the public interest.
The Battle of New Orleans was fought on this day in 1815. British forces suffered crushing losses
(more than 2,000 casualties) in an attack on New Orleans, LA. Defending U.S. troops were led by
General Andrew Jackson, who became even more of a popular hero as a result of the victory than he
already was because of his success in killing Indians.
Neither side knew that the War of 1812 had ended two weeks previously with the signing of the Treaty
of Ghent, Dec. 24, 1914. But you can be reasonably sure that if the Brits had carried the day in New
Orleans, the war would have been resumed or a new peace negotiated on more favorable terms for the
Earth's rotation was officially proved on this day in 1851. In his Paris home, using a device now
known as Foucault's pendulum, physicist Jean Foucault demonstrated that Earth rotates on its axis.
Reasonable people already knew this, however, and few people had the mathematical understanding to
grasp just why the movement of Foucault's pendulum proved anything.
Elvis Presley was born on this day in 1935 in Tupelo, Mississippi. A geeky misfit in high school, his
style of "singing black" became even more of a bridge to allow African-American music to reach the
American public than Bing Crosby's promotion of black musicians and bandleaders had been.
Sunday, January 9th -- Rawhide Day
The television show Rawhide premiered today in 1959. Clint Eastwood was introduced to American
audiences in the role of Rowdy Yates. Millions of Americans can still sing the rollicking theme song. In
those days it seemed we couldn't get enough Westerns; now it's rare to see a Western at all; but some
of the best of them came after the genre seemed to have died: Unforgiven, Silverado, Open Range,
and the remake of True Grit are among the best ever made. And Clint Eastwood still plays the hero-cowboy, whatever costume he happens to be wearing.
This is the anniversary of aviation in America. Today in 1793, Frenchman Jean-Pierre Francois
Blanchard made the first manned free-balloon flight in American history, taking off from Philadelphia,
Pennsylvania. The event was watched by President George Washington and many other high
government officials. The hydrogen-filled balloon rose to a height of about 5,800 feet, traveled some
15 miles, and landed 46 minutes later in New Jersey. Reportedly Blanchard had one passenger on the
flight -- a little black dog.
Monday, January 10th -- Common Sense Day
On this day in 1776, the pamphlet Common Sense, from the mighty pen of idealist, visionary, and/or
obnoxious fanatic and traitor Thomas Paine, was published. More than any other publication,
Common Sense influenced the authors of the Declaration of Independence. The 50-page pamphlet
sold 150,000 copies within a few months of its first printing.
No, Mr. Beck, you are not the modern-day Thomas Paine. Neither are you, Mr. Limbaugh. Nor you,
Mr. Friedman. And Senator Franken, you are not even on the same planet. Paine was not just an
entertaining writer or a sincere believer. He was also a profound thinker and piercing analyst, and
he had the courage to speak up for what he believed when it was dangerous and potentially fatal to
The world's longest-running clown convention met for the first time on this day in 1946, under the
rubric of "the United Nations General Assembly." Delegates from 51 nations met in London. As with
most clowns, they aren't actually funny, but you earnestly wish you could bring yourself to laugh at
Somebody decided that today is National Clean-Off-Your-Desk Day. Their stated goal is "to
provide one day early each year for desk workers to see the tops of their desks and prepare for the
onslaught of the following year's paperwork."
To them I say: Under peril of your life, touch nothing on my desk or on the floor near it. Those piles
are the natural habitat of spiders, silverfish, and other forms of animal, vegetable, and fungal life, and if
you disturb them, their denizens will follow you home.
Women's Suffrage Amendment was introduced in Congress in 1878. Senator A.A. Sargent of
California, a close friend of Susan B. Anthony, introduced into the U.S. Senate a proposal to adopt
what was called "the Susan B. Anthony Amendment." It wasn't until Aug 26, 1820, 42 years later, that
the amendment was signed into law.
I always thought this amendment was long overdue when it was finally adopted. Then I realized that
without the votes of women, neither Clinton nor Obama would have been elected President, and I had
to think long and hard about the matter before deciding that, on the whole, I still approve of it.
Mom, that was a joke. Honest.
Tuesday, January 11th -- Hamilton Day
The single most productive man among the Founding Fathers,
Alexander Hamilton, was (probably) born on this day in 1755 on the island of Nevis in the British West
Indies, the natural son of an unmarried couple -- Scotsman James Hamilton and Rachel Fawcettt
Lavien, daughter of a French physician and rumored, but never proven, to be part African. True or
not, Hamilton was a constant advocate of freedom for American blacks.
Hamilton wrote most of the Federalist Papers, which urged the adoption of the U.S. Constitution and
are still important in its interpretation. He was also Washington's most valuable and trusted aide-de-camp during the Revolutionary War, showing his personal courage on many occasions. Later, as
Secretary of the Treasury, he created the American financial and economic system, making it possible
to pay off our debts.
Thomas Jefferson detested Hamilton and everything he believed in, and while pretending to be above
politics, Jefferson encouraged every kind of lie and vicious rumor about Hamilton. Hamilton, a much
more forthright, honest, trusting, and intelligent man than Jefferson ever was, railed helplessly against
these endless attacks, finally dueling with Aaron Burr to defend his honor. Hamilton fired into the air,
but Burr then shot him in cold blood.
Fortunately, Hamilton's ideas ultimately prevailed. Instead of living in the feudal slave society that
Jefferson enjoyed and promoted, we live in the America Hamilton worked to create -- a largely
free-market economy with a mostly-sound currency, where slavery is prohibited.
For an understanding of this least-known of the three Greatest Americans (Lincoln and Washington
are the others), read Ron Chernow's brilliant and honest biography of Hamilton. The book is thick but
at the end of it, you'll understand America a lot better -- and I, at least, came from the book filled with
admiration for Hamilton.
U.S. Surgeon General Luther Terry declared cigarets hazardous in an official report on this day
in 1964 stating that cigarets "may be" dangerous to one's health. Meanwhile, tobacco-company-sponsored researchers kept claiming that nothing had actually been proved.
Now, 47 years later, it is possible to eat out, buy groceries, fly in an airplane, or stand in line at the post
office in most of America without having someone blow smoke into your face. The war on smoking
that began with that report has saved far more lives than Obama's health care law even wants to save.
Wednesday, January 12th -- Silicon Valley Day
On this day in 1777, in the Spanish territory of California, the Mission Santa Clara de Asis was
founded. Two centuries later, having given its name to the valley, county, and city of Santa Clara, it
would be at the center of the home-computer and personal computer revolution, mostly because it was
where the two Steves, Jobs and Wozniak, built the first Apple computers. Soon the valley was half-jokingly dubbed "Silicon Valley," by alliteration with the element that forms the basis of computer
After being eclipsed by IBM's second-rate but safe-for-businesses-to-buy PC ("No one ever got fired
for buying IBM") and then by perpetual patent-infringer and monopolist Bill Gates of Microsoft, Apple
-- and Silicon Valley -- came back to market dominance with the iPod, iTunes, the iPhone, and
the iPad, meanwhile rocking the music and telecommunications industries.
On this day one year ago, Haiti was hit with a magnitude 7 earthquake, killing more than 200,000
people and leaving more than 1 million homeless in what was already one of the poorest and worst-governed nations in the world.