Jun. 14, 2011

The Star Spangled Banner

by Francis Scott Key

Oh, say, can you see by the dawn's early light,
What so proudly we hailed at the twilight's last gleaming?
Whose broad stripes and bright stars, thru the perilous fight,
O'er the ramparts we watched, were so gallantly streaming?
And the rockets' red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there.
Oh say, does that star-spangled banner yet wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave?

On the shore, dimly seen through the mists of the deep,
Where the foe's haughty host in dread silence reposes,
What is that which the breeze, o'er the towering steep,
As it fitfully blows, half conceals, half discloses?
Now it catches the gleam of the morning's first beam,
In full glory reflected, now shines on the stream:
Tis the star-spangled banner: O, long may it wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave!

And where is that band who so vauntingly swore
That the havoc of war and the battle's confusion
A home and a country should leave us no more?
Their blood has washed out their foul footsteps' pollution.
No refuge could save the hireling and slave
From the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave:
And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave!

Oh, thus be it ever, when freemen shall stand,
Between their loved home and the war's desolation!
Blest with victory and peace, may the heav'n rescued land
Praise the Power that hath made and preserved us a nation!
Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just,
And this be our motto: "In God is our trust"
And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave!

"The Star-Spangled Banner" by Francis Scott Key. Public domain.

Today is Flag Day. It was on June 14, 1777, that the Second Continental Congress approved the Stars and Stripes as the flag of the United States, with a star for each state and 13 red and white stripes to commemorate the original 13 colonies. Of course, in 1777, there were only 13 states, and therefore only 13 stars, and their arrangement wasn't consistent: Sometimes the stars were in a circle, sometimes in rows, and there were a few occasions in the 19th century in which the stars appeared in the shape of a star. Our current incarnation of the flag has been around since 1960, with Hawaii's admission to the Union. In the event that Puerto Rico is officially made a state, there are already some 51-star designs in the works.

Woodrow Wilson formally declared June 14 to be Flag Day in 1916, and Congress established National Flag Day in 1949. It isn't a federal holiday, although Pennsylvania celebrates it as a state holiday and has done so since 1937.

It's the 200th birthday of Harriet Beecher Stowe (books by this author). Harriet Elizabeth Beecher was born in Litchfield, Connecticut, in 1811. Her father, Lyman Beecher, was a prominent Congregationalist minister, and he was a great proponent of education. The family moved to Cincinnati in 1832, and Harriet married Calvin Ellis Stowe in 1836; he was a clergyman and scholar, and he encouraged her to continue writing, which she had already enjoyed doing for several years.

Although Ohio was a free state, Cincinnati was separated from Kentucky slave-owners only by the Ohio River, and Stowe was very aware of conditions through her encounters with fugitive slaves. She also read a great deal of abolitionist literature, and when her husband took a teaching position in Maine, she began writing a long tale of slavery, Uncle Tom's Cabin; or, Life Among the Lowly (1852), which caused a national sensation. When she later met President Lincoln in 1863, he reportedly remarked, "So this is the little lady who made this great war."

In 1996, novelist Jane Smiley wrote in Harper's: "Ernest Hemingway, thinking of himself, as always, once said that all American literature grew out of Huck Finn. It undoubtedly would have been better for American literature, and American culture, if our literature had grown out of one of the best-selling novels of all time, another American work of the nineteenth century, Uncle Tom's Cabin." Smiley explained that by making the racism and slavery a personal matter between two individuals, rather than a political and institutional evil, Huck Finn fails even where it succeeds, by allowing white people to feel good about getting over their racism without ever actually doing anything about it. Smiley wrote, "Personal relationships do not mitigate the evils of slavery." In Huck Finn, she writes, "All you have to do to be a hero is acknowledge that your poor sidekick is human; you don't actually have to act in the interests of his humanity." She concludes: "I would rather my children read Uncle Tom's Cabin,even though it is far more vivid in its depiction of cruelty than Huck Finn,and this is because Stowe's novel is clearly and unmistakably a tragedy. No whitewash, no secrets, but evil, suffering, imagination, endurance, and redemption — just like life."

It's the birthday of Ernesto "Che" Guevara (1928) (books by this author), born Ernesto Guevara de la Serna in Rosario, Argentina. He suffered from asthma, but he was athletic and also a good student. He took a year off from college to travel around South America by motorcycle with his friend Alberto Granado, and he recorded their adventures in his journal, which was later published by his daughter as The Motorcycle Diaries (1993). He was disturbed by all the poverty and oppression he saw among the Indian people of Latin America, and he came to believe that the only solution was violent revolution.

He graduated from medical school in 1953 and went to Guatemala, which is where he got his nickname, based on the Argentinean habit of interjecting the word "che" into their speech. He supported the progressive regime of Jacobo Arbenz, but when the regime was overthrown by a CIA-sponsored coup, Guevara became convinced that the United States would never support any leftist government. He became radicalized in 1954, writing, "I will perfect myself and accomplish whatever may be necessary in order to become a true revolutionary."

In Mexico, he met the Castro brothers, Raúl and Fidel, and joined them in their plan to overthrow the Batista dictatorship in Cuba. Their forces landed in Cuba in November 1956, and were almost wiped out by Batista's army; the survivors fled to the mountains of the Sierra Maestra and formed a guerilla army, which eventually overthrew Batista and established a Marxist government in 1959. By now, Guevara was Castro's right-hand man, and he held several top government posts. He visited New York to speak at the United Nations as the head of the Cuban delegation, and appeared on the news show Face the Nation. He traveled to China, Africa, Europe, and the Middle East on a speaking tour. He was ill suited for diplomatic work; his nature was confrontational and uncompromising.

In 1965, Guevara dropped out of the picture. In an undated letter to Castro, he renounced his Cuban citizenship and resigned from his government positions, writing, "Other nations of the world summon my modest efforts," and that he had therefore decided to go and fight as a guerrilla "on new battlefields." He tried to effect revolution in the Congo, but failed, and traveled to Bolivia. While leading a guerilla army against the Bolivian regulars, a glimmer of his medical calling remained; he treated and released enemy soldiers. He was eventually captured and executed.

On this day in 1942, about a month before she and her family went into hiding, 13-year-old Anne Frank (books by this author) began to keep her diary. The family was betrayed by Dutch informants and taken away to the concentration camp at Auschwitz in 1944; Anne and her sister Margot were later transferred to Bergen-Belsen, where they died of typhus. Friends retrieved the diary after the Frank family's capture, and they gave it to Otto Frank, Anne's father and the only surviving member of the family, on his release in 1945. At first, Anne had kept the diary for herself alone, but later decided it was important as an eyewitness account, and she planned to publish it after the war. Since she didn't survive, her father published it for her in 1947, calling it The Diary of a Young Girl; it's been translated into more than 65 languages, and it made Anne one of the best-known victims of the Holocaust.

She wrote: "The best remedy for those who are afraid, lonely or unhappy is to go outside, somewhere where they can be quite alone with the heavens, nature and God. Because only then does one feel that all is as it should be and that God wishes to see people happy, amidst the simple beauty of nature. As longs as this exists, and it certainly always will, I know that then there will always be comfort for every sorrow, whatever the circumstances may be. And I firmly believe that nature brings solace in all troubles."

And, "I have often been downcast, but never in despair; I regard our hiding as a dangerous adventure, romantic and interesting at the same time. In my diary I treat all the privations as amusing. I have made up my mind now to lead a different life from other girls and, later on, different from ordinary housewives. My start has been so very full of interest, and that is the sole reason why I have to laugh at the humorous side of the most dangerous moments."

And, "How lovely to think that no one need wait a moment, we can start now, start slowly changing the world! How lovely that everyone, great and small, can make their contribution toward introducing justice straightaway. ... And you can always, always give something, even if it is only kindness!"

And, "It's a wonder I haven't abandoned all my ideals, they seem so absurd and impractical. Yet I cling to them because I still believe, in spite of everything, that people are truly good at heart."

Today is the birthday of screenwriter and blogger Diablo Cody (books by this author), born Brooke Busey in Lemont, Illinois, in 1978. She majored in media studies at the University of Iowa, and her first few jobs in and around Chicago were secretarial. She moved to Minneapolis to join her boyfriend Jonny, whom she met on the Internet, and took a job with an ad agency, though she didn't particularly care for the work. She wrote a couple of blogs — one, called "Red Secretary," was a quasi-fictional account of an Eastern bloc office worker that she used to complain about her job. After she went to an amateur night at a strip club, the Skyway Lounge, she quit to become a full-time stripper, and she blogged about that experience as well. In 2002, when she was 24, she wrote a memoir: Candy Girl: A Year in the Life of an Unlikely Stripper.

She came up with her pen name after listening to the Arcadia song "El Diablo" while driving through Cody, Wyoming. It may have been a spur-of-the-moment choice, but she's stuck with it now: "The name fuse followed me from the book to the screenplay, and now I have to live with the name, which I chose in 30 seconds with no thought about how it might sound or what it might imply. It was just a funny thing."

Her manager asked her to write a sample screenplay that he could take around to producers in an attempt to sell the screen rights to her memoir. The sample she produced was Juno, a story about a quippy but tenderhearted pregnant teenager. Plans to adapt her memoir were scrapped in favor of producing Juno, and the movie won several awards, including an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay in 2007. She's since written a few more screenplays, an original series for Showtime (The United States of Tara), and is set to adapt the popular young adult series Sweet Valley High into a movie. She has also been a contributing writer to Jane magazine, Entertainment Weekly, and the alternative weekly City Pages in Minneapolis, and she hosts a YouTube-based series called Red Band Trailer. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband, Dan Maurio, and their son, Marcello. "I've been told that I'm incompetent, socially retarded, maladjusted," she said. "I still know that I couldn't function in reality. Los Angeles is a good place for me."

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




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