Every Day Is Special
First appeared in print in The Rhinoceros Times
, Greensboro, NC.
Cash, Cans, Gorillas, and Chimps
Thursday, January 13th -- Johnny Cash Day
On this day in 1968, Johnny Cash put on two shows for 2,000 inmates in the Folsom Prison
cafeteria in the Central Valley of California. Backed by the Tennessee Three, he was joined in
performance by his soon-to-be wife, June Carter, and Carl Perkins, and the Statler Brothers. The
concert was recorded as a live album, which became a worldwide hit.
Cash had wanted to perform at the prison since releasing his hit song "Folsom Prison Blues"
in 1955. He sang that song at the prison and it was released as a single, which became Cash's
first top 40 hit since 1964. This sparked Cash's comeback after his career sank for a while under
the weight of his drug problems.
The songs were chosen for the inmates, not for the general public. Songs like "Busted," "Dark
as the Dungeon," and "I Got Stripes" spoke directly to being in prison; "Send a Picture of
Mother" hit their sentimental side, along with the self-pitying "Green, Green Grass of Home."
There were songs to appeal to inmates' sense of humor -- "Flushed from the Bathroom of Your
Heart" and "Dirty Old Egg-Suckin' Dog." And "Greystone Chapel" got cheers for declaring
that "God had a place here at Folsom."
But these songs for inmates worked for the general public far better than any of the label execs
were likely to have anticipated. Precisely because they showed the honesty of the concert,
Cash's choice to play for prisoners cemented his reputation as a hero to the downtrodden -- and
as a genuine "outlaw" of country music. This is why I think of Cash as the real thing, and
Elvis Presley as a mere entertainer who started with a fake tough-kid image.
On this day in 1910, radio pioneer and electron tube inventor Lee De Forest arranged the world's
first radio broadcast to the public in New York City, NY. He succeeded in broadcasting the
voice of Enrico Caruso along with other stars of the Metropolitan Opera to several receiving
locations in the city, where listeners with earphones marveled at wireless music from the air.
Though only a few homes were equipped to listen, it was the first broadcast to reach the public
and the beginning of a new era in which wireless radio communication became almost universal.
Notice that the goal of the first broadcast signaled the noble intention of bringing culture to the
masses. This attitude of condescension lasted only until advertisers took control. The public
didn't want elite culture, they wanted their own culture, and the sponsors saw to it they got it --
comedies, soap operas, westerns, mysteries, comic book heroes, and popular singing stars. Then
they started playing records.
Music publishers were furious that radio stations were broadcasting their recordings for free,
and put a stop to it -- as with Napster. They didn't realize that radio was selling their songs for
them. Later they made accommodations by collecting a small fee for every broadcast, just as the
music business is now making money from iTunes and Amazon.com.
Let this be a lesson for Congress. Corporate America will always try to get you to legislate for
the benefit of the status quo; but if you refuse to coddle and protect them, the resilient
corporations will end up making more money than every -- and the public will be far better
served. American culture cannot be legislated or prescribed: Culture is what the people choose.
Friday, January 14th -- Today Day
Today premiered on NBC on 14 January in 1952, but the show didn't take off until a chimp
named J. Fred Muggs was added as a co-host the following year. Still, Today was serious about
news, sports, and weather, and even the shows that have topped Today's ratings now and then
have done it by copying the same format.
This is Ratification Day, marking the date in 1784 when the Continental Congress, meeting in
Annapolis, MD, ratified the Treaty of Paris, officially ending the Revolutionary War and
establishing the United States of America as a sovereign power. The Declaration of
Independence was a statement of intent; this marked its fulfilment.
Saturday, January 15th -- Martin Luther King, Jr.'s, Real
By the time Congress got around to commemorating the birth of Martin Luther King, Jr. (15
January 1929, in Atlanta, GA), they were already moving holidays to Mondays whenever
possible, so Americans could have three-day weekends for traveling and spending money. So
we commemorate his birth on the "third Monday in January" instead of on the day.
But at least he gets a day all to himself; poor Washington and Lincoln have to share a day.
However, holiday-wise, this saves money for the federal government, and pleases the unions,
too, because now there's a holiday each in January and February, instead of two in February and
none in January, the way it used to be.
King is the first (and only) private citizen to have a federal holiday in his honor; he never held
government office. (Columbus eventually became Admiral of the Ocean Sea.) There are those
who still think he shouldn't have had such an honor (Senator Jesse Helms of North Carolina led
the opposition to the holiday in Congress).
In my opinion, though, King fully deserves the day. Washington won the war to create our
nation; Lincoln won the war to stitch it back together when slavery split it; King may well have
prevented another civil war. Without King's civil disobedience, his commitment to
nonviolence, who knows what might have happened when American blacks finally rose up to
resist the reign of terror, humiliation, and discrimination that had been imposed on them
throughout the country (not just the South) for generations after the momentary hope the Lincoln
and the radical Republicans brought them after the Civil War.
This is also Bald Eagle Appreciation Day. I want everyone to know how grateful I am for
everything bald eagles have done for me.
Bald eagles are not bald -- "bald" used to mean "white-headed" but became a euphemism for
hairlessness later. They live near open water where there are tall trees for nesting. It was on the
brink of extinction in the 48 contiguous states (though it flourished all along in Alaska and
Canada); it was removed from the list of endangered and threatened wildlife in the lower 48
states in 2007.
On this day in 1967, the Green Bay Packers won the first NFL-AFL World Championship
Game, defeating the Kansas City Chiefs, 35-10 at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Packers
quarterback Bart Starr was named the Most Valuable Player. Pro football's title game later
became known as the Super Bowl.
Sunday, January 16th -- Religious Freedom Day
Religious Freedom Day commemorates the adoption of a religious freedom statute by the
Virginia legislature in 1786. Drafted by Thomas Jefferson and introduced by James Madison, it
was later the model for the First Amendment to the US Constitution.
This day is all the more important today, when, in the name of the Constitution, the Leftist elite
of America is waging a relentless crusade to give everyone but Christians the freedom to
exercise their religion in public in America.
We have seen professors fired or denied tenure from universities because of their private
Christian beliefs, and Christianity nearly expunged from many school history courses (though
Islam, which contributed exactly nothing to American history, unless you count the pirates of
Tripoli, is now given units in many such courses).
It's about time that our courts and Congress started insisting on the language of the First
Amendment instead of Jefferson's never-ratified language about the impossible and undesirable
"separation of church and state." The amendment not only forbids the establishment of religion,
but also bans Congress from "prohibiting the free exercise" of religion.
I'm very worried about the savage persecution of Christians in Nigeria, Sudan, China, and many
other countries; but I'm also worried about the more polite but also more shameful limits placed
on Christians by supposed "liberals" in America. Today it seems that the one group that "dare
not speak its name" without instantly being attacked in American universities and political life
today is believing Christians.
Tonight you can watch the Golden Globe Awards, sponsored by the Hollywood Foreign Press
Association and honoring achievement in film and television. No one cares that the Foreign
Press Association otherwise has no qualifications or influence anywhere -- it's a great party and
the awards are often better than the pretentious Oscars.
My favorite awards are the annual Christine Lahti Prize for being in the john when they call
your name for an award, and the Ving Rhames Medal for trying to give your award to one of
the other nominees.
Dian Fossey, famous for her work as a scientist studying, writing about, and protecting gorillas,
was born on this day in 1932. Her solitary work among the gorillas of the Virunga Mountains in
Rwanda, Africa, was groundbreaking in its methodology and results. Fossey was a vigorous
crusader against the poachers who decimate the gorilla population, and her murder in 1985 was
probably their answer.
This is Appreciate a Dragon Day; in libraries, children will have the opportunity to choose
dragons from popular literature and participate in activities to share their enthusiasm for the
dragon of their choice. What's next, Appreciate a Vampire Day? They have both traveled the
road from monster to cuddly pal.
Monday, January 17th -- Benjamin Franklin Day
This is the Martin Luther King, Jr., holiday, but it's really the birthday (in 1706) of Benjamin
Franklin, the writer, entrepreneur, and renaissance man who may be credited with creating the
idea of a common identity as Americans for all the colonists along the Atlantic coast of NorthAmerica. He lived to be the oldest signer of the Declaration of Independence and the
Constitution. He died in 1790, but 62 years earlier, he had written for himself this epitaph:
The Body of Benjamin Franklin, Printer,
Like a Covering of an old Book
Its contents torn out
And stript of its Lettering and Gilding,
Lies here, Food for Worms;
But the work shall not be lost,
It will (as he believ'd) appear once more
In a New and more beautiful Edition
Corrected and amended
By the Author
To celebrate National Fresh-Squeezed Juice Week I don't expect you all to buy oranges and
squeeze them -- that's so much work -- but at least make it a point to buy some not-from-concentrate orange juice. Or make lemonade by squeezing the juice of a lemon or two into a tall
glass of ice-cold water. Add sugar if you're a wimp.
Tuesday, January 18th -- Pooh Day
A.A. (Alan Alexander) Milne, the creator of Winnie the Pooh as a literary character, was born on
this day in London in 1882. Though Milne was a noted playwright, once he wrote Winnie-the-Pooh and The House at Pooh Corner, recounting imaginary tales of his son, Christopher Robin,
and his stuffed animals (and a book of nursery rhymes, Now We Are Six), his other work was
completely overshadowed. He had no reason to expect this -- his earlier book of children's
poems, When We Were Very Young, had taken a modest place among his much more famous
works -- and the vast success of these later children's books became a burden to him.
In my opinion, however, any writer is astonishingly lucky if even one of his works not only
supports his family during his lifetime but continues to find new readers after his death. It can
be frustrating to see later and (you suppose) better works seem to vanish in the reputation of
having written That One -- but Milne and his heirs ate the bread of Pooh for many years.
It was his son, Christopher Robin, who had grounds for complaint.
This is also the birthday of comedians Cary Grant (born Archibald Alexander Leach in 1904),
Oliver Hardy (1892), and Danny Kaye (1913). (My father attended a performance of Danny
Kaye's for American military personnel during World War II, and attests that he heard Kaye
deliberately sing an entire song exactly one half-step out of tune.)
This is also the birthday of noted American lawyer and politician Daniel Webster (1782), a Whig
who opposed Andrew Jackson. He served in the U.S. Senate and as Secretary of State.
Wednesday, January 19th -- Tin Can Day
On this day in 1825, Ezra Daggett and his nephew Thomas Kensett obtained an American patent
for a process for storing food in tin cans. Daggett actually learned the secret in England, where
food was already being canned, the process having been devised in France, spurred by a prize
offered by Napoleon.
In those days inventors were more likely to rely on secrecy to protect the exclusivity of their
inventions, because patenting requires a complete disclosure of the method. But when secrecy
alone is your protection, you have no recourse when industrial espionage carries away your
Regardless of where the process started, in those days before refrigeration, this was a
transformative technology, allowing food to be stored for months or years after harvest, and
distributed and sold in place far removed from where it was grown. Salmon, lobster, and oysters
were among the first foods packed in cans by Daggett and Kensett.
Astonishingly, the invention of the can opener -- any dedicated can opener -- did not come
until 1858, and it barely worked. The original instructions when canning began were to open the
"case" by cutting around the top with a chisel and hammer -- which works, but ends up ducking
the chisel into the tin.
And it helps to have a vise holding the can in place (if a person holds it, he is at grave risk of
losing his hand). Cans were stabbed with knives and bayonets and the tops pried back, and you
can bet the much of the food inside was splashed everywhere.
The usable crank-and-wheel can opener was invented by American William Lyman in 1870,
and finally you could get to your tinned food without getting it all over yourself -- and without
savagely cutting yourself.
But don't sneer at our ancestors for being content with cans for so many years before getting can
openers. We've been using personal computers for thirty years and we're still waiting for a
practical intuitive universal operating system. When we get one, we will think of our current
software as the equivalent of prying open cans with a bayonet.
Like the tin can, the neon tube used in signs was invented by a Frenchman -- in this case
Georges Claude (1870-1960), considered by many to be the "Edison of France." He invented a
system for liquefying air in 1902, which allowed industry to transport and use nitrogen, oxygen,
and argon in bulk. His company, L'Air Liquide, is today a multinational with headquarters in
Neon was a byproduct of his production of other gases; Claude developed neon tube lighting and
first demonstrated it at the Paris Motor Show in December 1910, and it was patented in France
that year. It was not patented in the United States until 19 January 1915 -- and, with typical
American chauvinism, you will find many sources that list that as the date when the neon tube
True enough -- but that doesn't mean it was invented here (any more than the tin can) or that it
had not been patented already in other countries. Contrary to American myth, we did not invent
Back to M. Georges Claude: The sad denouement of his story is that in World War II, he
collaborated with the Nazi occupiers of France (after all, that was good business and nobody
seriously thought the Germans would ever be booted out of France).
After the war he was imprisoned and stripped of all his honors. His corporation, of course,
continued because corporations are never given the death penalty for their crimes, though the
free market has been known to impose the death penalty on corporations that did not commit the
crimes of the corporations that prevailed over them.
The free market has no conscience; that is why societies that have a public conscience must
corral the ruthless free market within fences of regulation so we can milk it without letting it
On this day in 1943, Janis Joplin was born, bringing us soul-searing performances of great
songs until she cut her own life short with drugs. Her greatest hits album is still unmatched in
power and brilliance by any other singer, in my opinion.
American writer Edgar Allan Poe, born today in 1809, likewise prepared himself for early
death, though his drug of choice was alcohol. But perhaps his biggest problem was that he was
the first American to live entirely from his earnings as a writer, always a chancy project even
On this day in 1966, Indira Gandhi was elected to be India's third prime minister. Much
was made of the fact that she was a female head of government, but many Indians saw the more
significant fact: She was daughter of the first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, and continued
his socialist policies, which kept India from any serious economic growth for decades.
Indira got the last name Gandhi by marrying Feroze Gandhi, a student at the London School of
Economics when she met him; she was no relation to Mahatma Gandhi. She was bent on
establishing a family dynasty and cared little for democracy -- she took the standard course
toward dictatorship by fixing elections, and then, when caught at it, declaring an emergency and
arresting most of the political opposition. She also ruthlessly purged her own party of any
In effect, she united all her opponents into a single party; meanwhile, her only rival inside her
party was now her son, Sanjay, but he died in a plane accident. She eventually lost to her united
opponents, but they stupidly arrested her and made her seem a victim, winning her sympathy and
eventual reelection to the top job.
When she was assassinated by Sikhs in 1984, her hopes for a family dynasty bore fruit in the
election of her son Rajiv Gandhi, who was assassinated in turn by Tamils in 1991. His widow
got control of the party's political apparatus but declined to become prime minister herself.
Several of Gandhi's children are now active in politics -- on both sides of the aisle (if India can
be said to have an aisle). Hopes (or fears) of a dynasty are still alive.
Gandhi is still revered as the First Woman, but her contempt for democracy should not be
overlooked. When heads of democratic governments attempt to subvert electoral rebuffs and
uncooperative legislatures, the danger of dictatorship is real and must be actively opposed to
avoid losing all but the mere semblance of democratic government.