Jul. 18, 2006

TUESDAY, 18 JULY, 2006
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Poem: "Vegan" by Sue Ellen Thompson from The Golden Hour. © Autumn House Press, Pittsburgh. Reprinted with permission.


My daughter hauls her sacks of beans
and vegetables in from the car and begins to chop.
My father, who has had enough caffeine,
makes himself a manhattan-on-the-rocks.

It's Sunday, his night for sausage and eggs,
hers for stir-fried lentils, rice, and kale.
Watching her cook eases his fatigue
and loneliness. Later, she'll trim his toenails.

He no longer has an appetite
for anything beyond this evening ritual.
But he'll fry himself an egg tonight
and eat dinner with his granddaughter. For a widower,

there is no greater comfort in the world
than his girls and his girls' girls.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of playwright Clifford Odets, (books by this author) born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (1906). He's best known for the plays Waiting for Lefty (1935) and Golden Boy (1937).

It's the birthday of political activist and leader Nelson Mandela, (books by this author) born in Cape of Good Hope, South Africa (1918), whose father was chief of the Tembu tribe.

It's the birthday of novelist William Makepeace Thackeray, (books by this author) born in Calcutta, India (1811). His father worked for the British East India Company, but he died when Thackeray was just a boy, and Thackeray's mother sent him back to England to go to boarding school. He thought he had an inheritance waiting for him from his late father, but the bank where his father's money was invested collapsed, and what remained of his inheritance was gone. So Thackeray turned twenty-one with few prospects, and he turned to making money from funny drawings and satirical essays. He made his name with a column he wrote for Punch magazine called "The Snobs of England By One of Themselves."

He went on to write novels, and became the second most popular novelist of his lifetime, after Charles Dickens. His masterpiece was Vanity Fair (1847). It's the story of Becky Sharp, the poor daughter of a drawing master who fights her way up through society by any means necessary.

William Makepeace Thackeray said, "There are a thousand thoughts lying within a man that he does not know till he takes up a pen to write."

It's the birthday of journalist Hunter S. Thompson, (books by this author) born in Louisville, Kentucky (1939). He was trying to make it as a freelance writer, living with his mother, when he was hired by The Nation magazine to write a brief investigative article about the Hell's Angels motorcycle gang. After his article was published, he got a call from a publisher offering him fifteen hundred dollars to write a book on the same subject.

Thompson used the advance to buy a motorcycle and began driving around the country, meeting bikers and writing about them. He almost died doing his research one day when five Hell's Angels suddenly turned on him and beat him senseless. But he survived, and in 1967 he published his book Hell's Angels: The Strange and Terrible Saga of the Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs. The experience of writing the book inspired Thompson to become a kind of outlaw journalist of the counterculture, writing about his own adventures beyond the boundaries of normal society. He went on to become one of the most prominent journalists of his generation. In 1971 he published his most famous book, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.

Hunter S. Thompson said, "When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro."

Today is believed to be the anniversary of the fire that burned Rome in 64 A.D., while the emperor Nero supposedly played his fiddle. In fact, Nero wasn't even in Rome when the fire broke out. He was thirty-five miles away at his holiday villa on the coast, and his own palace was one of the buildings that burned.

Nero apparently decided that the fire needed to be blamed on someone else. And so he chose a tiny new religious group called the Christians. He had Christians crucified in the streets and burned at the stake. The religion of Christianity was only a few decades old when Nero chose to single it out. The historian Tacitus later argued that Nero's persecution of the Christians went too far, and that it had the unintended effect of making people sympathize with the Christians. It's possible that Nero's decision to blame Christians for the fire gave them the publicity they needed to help spread their ideas.

A little more than two hundred years after Nero picked the Christians as his scapegoat, the emperor of the Roman Empire himself converted to Christianity, and it became the dominant religion of Europe for more than 1,500 years.

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




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