Apr. 29, 2006

The Ten Commandments

by Anonymous

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Poem: "The Ten Commandments" by Anonymous. Public domain. (buy now)

The Ten Commandments

I.   Have thou no other gods but me,
II.   And to no image bow thy knee.
III.   Take not the name of God in vain:
IV.   The sabbath day do not profane.
V.   Honour thy father and mother too;
VI.   And see that thou no murder do.
VII.   Abstain from words and deeds unclean;
VIII.   Nor steal, though thou art poor and mean.
IX.   Bear not false witness, shun that blot;
X.   What is thy neighbor's covet not.
  These laws, O Lord, write in my heart, that I,
    May in thy faithful service live and die.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday emperor Hirohito, born in Tokyo (1901). He was the Emperor of Japan during World War II, and the Japanese people believed that he was a living god. When he announced the surrender of Japanese forces over the radio on August 15, 1945, it was the first time that his voice had ever been recorded or broadcast. People across Japan gathered around their radios to hear him. Unfortunately, they couldn't understand him, because he spoke in an ancient form of Japanese.

It's the birthday of newspaper publisher William Randolph Hearst born in San Francisco, California (1863). In 1887, he took control of his first newspaper, the San Francisco Examiner, and went on to build one of the most powerful chains of newspapers in American history.

It's the birthday of Duke Ellington, born Edward Kennedy Ellington in Washington, D.C. (1899). When Ellington was seven years old, a piano teacher refused to teach him because he wouldn't stop improvising and experimenting with off-tone chords. So he taught himself to play on the family player piano, using as his models ragtime pianists he heard in and around Washington, D.C. He dropped out of high school to pursue a career in music. He worked briefly as a soda jerk, and his first piece of music was called "Soda Fountain Rag" (1915).

It was on this day in 1983 that Harold Washington was sworn in as the first black mayor of Chicago.

Washington had been serving as a member of the House of Representatives, representing the poorest district in the state of Illinois, an area of Chicago that was 92 percent black. For decades, Chicago had been one of the most racially divided cities in the country. The Democratic political machine that ruled the city was known to deny municipal services to the black neighborhoods. The city didn't enforce housing codes in black neighborhoods, the city didn't fix potholes or sidewalks in black neighborhoods, there was less police and fire patrol, and less investment in public schools.

Washington entered the primary race in 1982. He was the least well known and he had the least amount of money of the three. One of his opponents spent $10 million during the primary, the other spent $2 million. Washington spent less that $750,000. He didn't run any television advertisements until the last week of the primary race.

But he made a name for himself during the primary's televised debates, when he was the only candidate to speak like a real person, with passion and humor and his willingness to address the history of racism in the city of Chicago. It also helped that the two white candidates split the vote of the opposition. Washington won the primary with 82 percent of the black vote.

Usually, whoever won the Democratic primary in Chicago became the mayor, because Democrats were so dominant in Chicago politics. Chicago hadn't elected a Republican mayor since 1927. But when Washington became the Democratic nominee, many white Democrats in the city turned against him.

The Republican candidate was Buddy Epton, and his campaign slogan was, "Epton, Before it's too late." The mayoral election turned out a record 82 percent of Chicago's 1.8 million eligible voters. Washington won the election by just over forty thousand votes.

Washington spent his first term fighting against members of his own party in the city council to enact political reforms. He became a kind of folk hero among his supporters. Restaurants in Chicago's black neighborhoods put his picture up in windows. People carried tiny portraits of him attached to their key chains. When he ran for reelection in 1987, he got more than 99 percent of the black vote. He died of a heart attack a few months after the start of his second term.

It's the birthday of editor and publisher Robert Gottlieb, (books by this author) born in New York City (1931). As a teenager he read War and Peace in one day, and while he was at college he read Marcel Proust's six-volume Remembrance of Things Past in less than a week.

In 1955, he applied for a job as an editorial assistant for Jack Goodman at Simon & Schuster. In his second year as an editor, Gottlieb received a manuscript by Joseph Heller with the working title Catch-18. Gottlieb suggested the title Catch-22, the book became a modern classic, and Gottlieb became one of the best-known editors in the country at the age of twenty-six.

He went on to edit the books of S.J. Perelman, Jessica Mitford, Doris Lessing, Ray Bradbury, Chaim Potok, Anthony Burgess, John Cheever, Michael Crichton, John le Carré, and many other writers.

It's the birthday of poet C.P. Cavafy, (books by this author) born in Alexandria, Egypt (1863). His parents were Greek, and he wrote his poetry in modern Greek, but lived in Alexandria almost his entire life. He lived with his mother until he was thirty-six, in an apartment just above a brothel, and across the street from a church and a hospital.

One of his few friends was the novelist E.M. Forster, who called Cavafy "a Greek gentleman in a straw hat, standing absolutely motionless at a slight angle to the universe."

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