Nov. 2, 2010

To Be a Danger

by C.G. Hanzlicek

Just once I'd like to be a danger
To something in this world,
Be hunted by cops
And forced into hiding in the mountains,
Since if they left me on the streets
I'd turn the country around,
Changing everyone's mind with a word.

But I've lived so long a quiet life,
In a world I've made small,
That even my own mind changes slowly.
I'm a danger only to myself,
Like the daydreaming night watchman
Smoking his cigar
Near the dynamite shed.

"To Be a Danger" by C.G. Hanzlicek, from The Cave. © University of Pittsburgh Press, 2001. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

Today is Election Day.

It's the birthday of frontier hero Daniel Boone, born near Reading, Pennsylvania (1734). He was one of 11 children, raised in a Quaker household. He grew up wandering through the woods, tending the family's cattle. He learned to track animals, and hunted with a wooden spear until he was 12, when he got his first rifle. But then two of his older siblings married non-Quakers, or "worldlings," and the family was ostracized by the Quaker community. So they moved to North Carolina. It took them more than a year to get there.

Daniel Boone fought in the French and Indian War, came home and got married, and managed to have 10 children in between his long and frequent hunting trips into the wilderness. He explored farther and farther west, and in 1767 he ventured into what is now Kentucky. A couple of years later, he made it to the Cumberland Gap, and then he said, "I returned to my family with a determination to bring them as soon as possible to live in Kentucky, which I esteemed a second paradise." He did manage to move his whole family to the Kentucky territory, then western Virginia, and finally settled in Missouri when it was still owned by French. When someone asked him why he had left Kentucky, he said it was "too crowded." In 1788, when he moved to western Virginia, there were about 70,000 people in the entire territory.

Daniel Boone became a myth even during his lifetime, the quintessential rugged outdoorsman. In 1784, John Filson published a book called The Discovery, Settlement and Present State of Kentucky to Which Is Added the Adventures of Daniel Boon. Filson interviewed Boone and looked at his journals, but he heavily edited the frontiersman's words, replacing them with flowery language. He presented Boone's story in the first person, as an autobiography, and Boone himself happily claimed that every word was true, and the book became extremely popular in Europe and America. It went through numerous editions, freely edited and adapted. Lord Byron included a long ode to Boone in his epic poem Don Juan,and James Fenimore Cooper used Boone as the inspiration for the character Natty Bumppo in his series of novels The Leatherstocking Tales.

There was only one painting done of Boone during his lifetime, showing him in a buckskin shirt, leggings, moccasins, and a beaver hat. But in the 1820s, an actor portraying Boone couldn't find a beaver hat, so he grabbed a coonskin cap instead. To this day Daniel Boone is portrayed in a coonskin cap, even though the real Boone thought coonskin caps were silly and impractical — he always wore a beaver or felt hat instead, which had a wide brim for keeping out the sun and rain.

It was on this day in 1960 that Penguin Books was acquitted in an obscenity case. D.H. Lawrence's (books by this author) novel Lady Chatterley's Lover was the book in question, and Penguin had attempted to publish a paperback edition of the novel, which had been published in 1928 and banned in England ever since.

Obscenity laws had been in place in England since 1868. The definition of obscene was anything that might "deprave and corrupt those whose minds are open to such immoral influences." Lawrence knew he didn't stand a chance with Lady Chatterley's Lover, which was the story of a Constance Chatterley, the wife of a paralyzed, impotent lord; she has an affair with the gamekeeper on her estate. So he self-published the novel in Florence, and died in France in self-imposed exile two years later, in 1930. At the time of his death, few people took him seriously as a literary figure. One exception was the novelist E.M. Forster, who called him "the greatest imaginative novelist of our generation."

In 1959, England's obscenity law was redefined, with more leeway for material that could be proven to have artistic merit. Sir Allen Lane, the founder of Penguin, saw his chance to include Lady Chatterley's Lover in a D.H. Lawrence series. Penguin announced its intention to publish the book, and the government announced its intention to take them to court.

The press lined up at 7:45 a.m. on the morning of October 27th to get into the first day of the trial, and Penguin's lawyer, Michael Rubinstein, handed out illegal copies of Lady Chatterley's Lover with the covers of a different Lawrence novel, so that they could follow the proceedings better.

Dozens of writers had volunteered to defend Lawrence's novel, among them Aldous Huxley, Bertrand Russell, Doris Lessing, Irish Murdoch, and Laurence Durrell. But in general, the defense chose safer, more mainstream witnesses — priests, professors, schoolteachers, journalists. Some of them had been asked to testify for the prosecution but instead had volunteered their services for the defense. The most famous novelist was mild-mannered E.M. Forster, who once again publicly stood up for Lawrence.

The defense called 35 witnesses, all of whom strongly defended the novel. Despite the prosecution's aggressive questioning and reading of particularly lurid passages, the defendants all strictly maintained that it was a good, moral novel. One young graduate repeatedly insisted that the novel was "puritanical" at heart. A bishop claimed that Lawrence was portraying sex as sacred, and when he was asked if he thought it was a book that Christians should read, he said yes, it was. One of the headlines that evening was A BOOK ALL CHRISTIANS SHOULD READ.

In the end, it didn't matter how many obscene passages the prosecution read aloud, or that the judge suggested to the jury that they deliver a guilty verdict. The trial wasn't even about Lady Chatterley's Lover as much as it was about a new era, a move away from old Victorian values and toward a society in which sexual matters could be discussed freely.

It took the jury less than three hours to reach their verdict, acquitting Penguin Books. People lined up outside bookstores before they opened, and the first edition of 200,000 copies sold out in the first few minutes. Many booksellers said they could have sold thousands more that day. Within a year, Lady Chatterley's Lover sold 1 million copies.

Today is the official birthday of cheerleading, which began in 1898.

In the 1880s, Princeton University supporters frequently cheered in unison from the stands. In 1884, a Princeton graduated named Thomas Peebles moved to Minneapolis and shared Princeton's cheering ideas.

November 2nd, 1898 was the University of Minnesota football team's final game against Northwestern University. Minnesota had been losing games, and the student newspaper published an editorial and said, "Any plan that would stir up enthusiasm for athletics would be helpful."

So a group of young men from the University of Minnesota decided to lead the whole crowd in cheering, and on this day in 1898, Johnny Campbell picked up a megaphone, stood in front of the crowd of spectators, and directed them to yell: "Rah, Rah, Rah! Ski-U-Mah! Hoo-Rah! Hoo-Rah! Varsity! Varsity! Minn-e-so-tah!" The crowd shouted so enthusiastically that Minnesota was inspired and won the game 17-6.

For 25 years, cheerleading was an activity only for men. In 1923, the University of Minnesota created the first female cheerleading squad, but it wasn't until the 1940s that women became the majority of cheerleaders. These days, cheerleading is 97 percent women at a high school level. Cheer is still not considered an official sport in many states, but it is a dangerous one — of the 3 million female high school athletes, 12 percent are cheerleaders, but it accounts for 65 percent of catastrophic injuries.

From the archives:

It was on this day in 1948 that Harry S. Truman managed one of the great election upsets in American history, beating New York governor Thomas E. Dewey to become president. Truman had been doing badly in the polls, in part because he'd come into office after Franklin Roosevelt's sudden death on April 12, 1945, and he'd never really lived up to Roosevelt's reputation. Truman wasn't well known, and people painted him as a country bumpkin from Missouri, with no college degree. Two months before the election, the pollster Elmo Roper announced that he was going to stop surveying voters, because Truman was so far behind.

But Truman didn't give up. He set out on his Whistle Stop Tour, with a private railroad car outfitted with a sound system so that he could pull into small towns and give speeches directly from the train. That fall of 1948, he traveled 21,928 miles, just short of the distance around the world, and he delivered more than 300 speeches, including the first speech ever delivered by an American president to a black audience in Harlem.

On Election Day, he went to bed early, after a ham sandwich and a glass of milk. When he woke up around midnight and turned on the radio, they were reporting that he was ahead in the popular vote by more than 1 million, but the announcer said that he would still lose for sure. It turned out that he won 303 electoral votes to Dewey's 189. Not a single news organization in the country had predicted the election correctly. Two days after the election, Truman made an appearance in St. Louis and somebody handed him a copy of the Chicago Tribune with the headline "DEWEY DEFEATS TRUMAN." He held the paper over his head, and that became the source of a famous photograph. An unsigned editorial in the conservative New York Sun said of Truman's upset victory: "You just have to take off your hat to a beaten man who refuses to stay licked."

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




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