Sunday

Jan. 9, 2011

Good Workers

by Gary Johnson

Let us praise good workers (you know who you are)
Who come gladly to the job and do what you can
For as long as it takes to repair the car
Or clean the house the woman or man
Who dives in and works steadily straight through,
Not lagging and letting others carry the freight,
Who joke around but do what you need to do,
Like the home caregiver who comes daily at eight
A.m. to wash and dress the man in the wheelchair
And bring him meals and put him to bed at night
For minimum wage and stroke his pale brown hair.
He needs you. "Are you all right?" "I'm, all right,"
      He says. He needs you to give him these good days,
      You good worker. God's own angels sing your
praise.

"Good Workers" by Gary Johnson. Used with permission of the author.

It was on this day in 2001 that Apple Computers introduced iTunes. Since that day, more than 10 billion tracks have been downloaded from the iTunes store. Six years later, on this day in 2007, Apple unveiled the iPhone. Afterward, they made available a software development kit, the set of tools enabling a person to create a third-party application, or iPhone "App." There are now more than 300,000 iPhone Apps, with 7 billion downloads — helping people do things like learn Japanese, train for marathons, monitor infant diaper activity, access news stories, find cookbook recipes, keep time with a metronome, make espresso and boost productivity.

It's the birthday of Cassandra Austen, born in Hampshire, England (1773). She was a good watercolor painter, and she was extremely close to her sister, novelist Jane Austen. Neither one of the two sisters ever married and they shared a bedroom all of their lives. When they were apart from each other — when one traveled to visit distant relatives and the other stayed home — they wrote letters, hundreds of them. And it's from these letters between the Austen sisters that scholars have been able to piece together many of the details about Jane Austen's life.

We also know what Jane Austen looks like because of drawings by her sister Cassandra. One of Cassandra's illustrations of Jane is on display at the National Portrait Gallery in London.

It's the 40th birthday of novelist and pop culture critic Hal Niedzviecki, (books by this author) born in Brockville, Ontario (1971). He's the author of the novels Lurvy, A Farmer's Almanac (1999), Ditch (2001), and The Program (2005).

His most recent book is a cultural study called The Peep Diaries: How We're Learning to Love Watching Ourselves and Our Neighbors (2009). He writes about the development of what he calls "peep culture," which he describes as "reality TV, YouTube, MySpace, Facebook, Twitter, over-the-counter spy gear, blogs, chat rooms, amateur porn, surveillance technology, Dr. Phil, Borat, cell phone photos of your drunk friend making out with her ex-boyfriend, and more." And in the book, he argues that this "tell-all, show-all, know-all digital phenomenon" is "dramatically altering notions of privacy, individuality, security, and even humanity." He writes, "In the age of peep, core values and rights we once took for granted are rapidly being renegotiated, often without our even noticing."

It's the birthday of adventurer and author Richard Halliburton, (books by this author) born in Brownsville, Tennessee (1900), the son of a civil engineer. He went to a prestigious New Jersey prep school, edited the student newspaper at Princeton, and then set off on the dizzying array of adventures around the world that would make him famous. To fundraise for these adventures, he wrote books about them. Many of his books became best-sellers.

On one of his first major trips, he traveled down the Nile River, headed over to India and Thailand, and climbed Mount Fiji; he wrote about these escapades in The Royal Road to Romance (1925). On one trip he borrowed an elephant from the Paris zoo and rode it across the Alps. On another trip he decided to follow the ancient path of Ulysses around the Mediterranean Sea; he wrote about these wanderings in The Glorious Adventure (1927). His next big adventure was around Central and South America, where he swam across the Panama Canal. Tolls for crossing the Panama Canal are assessed based on weight, and ships routinely pay over a hundred thousand dollars for a single crossing. But since Halliburton swam across, his toll was just 37 cents — a record for the lowest toll ever. He wrote about his Latin American adventures in New Worlds to Conquer (1929).

On Christmas Day 1930, he set out on another one of his epic adventures. It was a trip around the world in an open-cockpit biplane. It would last 18 months and include stops in 34 countries, and it began in Los Angeles. There was a stop in New York, and then the British Isles, France, Gibraltar, Morocco. He and his co-pilot flew across the Sahara, made a stop in Timbuktu, spent time in Algeria, and landed in Persia (now Iran). They made a stop in Iraq, where they gave a joyride to the school-aged Iraqi prince, flying him up over his school's playground.

They headed over to India, where their crimson red plane did aerial stunts over the Taj Mahal. Then they flew to Mount Everest, taking the first aerial photographs of the summit. They flew to the Philippines. Once there, they crated the plane, and rode a ship with it back across the Pacific, landing in San Francisco. From there they flew back to L.A. so that they could complete their journey at its starting place.

Halliburton wrote a book about the aerial expedition called The Flying Carpet (1932), which was also the name of the plane. The book sold phenomenally well even though it was published in the midst of the Great Depression.

Once, when he was young, he had announced to his father — an engineer — that he himself planned at all costs to avoid living an "even-tenored" life. He said: "When impulse and spontaneity fail to make my way uneven then I shall sit up nights inventing means of making my life as conglomerate and vivid as possible. ... And when my time comes to die, I'll be able to die happy, for I will have done and seen and heard and experienced all the joy, pain and thrills — any emotion that any human ever had — and I'll be especially happy if I am spared a stupid, common death in bed."

He was spared a common death in bed. In 1939, he attempted to sail a Chinese junk from Hong Kong to San Francisco. It was 75 feet long, had a dragon painted on it, and was run by a diesel engine. The idea was to land at Treasure Island, in the Bay between San Francisco and Oakland. It was bad from the beginning. He was caught in a typhoon near Midway Island a few weeks after setting out. He sent out a couple messages: "Wish you were here instead of me" and "Southerly gale. Heavy Rain Squalls. High sea ... lee rail under water." He was never heard from again and was presumed dead shortly later, age 39.

While he was gallivanting about, he wrote a lot of letters home to his parents. Afterward, his dad collected and published them as Richard Halliburton: His Story of His Life's Adventure, as Told in Letters to His Mother and Father (1940). His travel writings are also collected in Richard Halliburton's Complete Book of Marvels (1941).

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®

 









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