Thursday, May 24, 2007

Daily D-Gest Week Four (May 19 - 25)


May 22 Birthdays

Richard Wagner (1813-1883), German composer and conductor of operas ("Lohengrin", "The Ring of Nibelung"). Wagner both revolutionized opera (a subject far too complicated for me to understand or summarize here) and called for revolution and anarchy in society, a position that led to several years in exile in Switzerland.

Mary Cassatt (1844-1926) American impressionist painter who lived and worked in Paris. She specialized in portraits of mothers and children in domestic and intimate settings, and used members of her own family as subjects. Here is Cassatt's painting "Mother and Child Against a Green Background."

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (1859-1930) gained lasting fame for creating detective Sherlock Holmes and his faithful sidekick Dr. Watson. Conan Doyle began his career as a physician but was able to devote his full energies to writing due to the success of the Sherlock Holmes stories. Later in life, he did serve as a physician in the Boer War. Conan Doyle wrote other successful fictions, a play, and non-fiction works about the Boer War and World War I. Surprisingly, he was knighted not for Sherlock Holmens, but for the Boer War books, which justified British involvement.

Sir Laurence Olivier (1907-1989), perhaps the most famous British actor of the 20th century. Olivier played more than 120 stage roles and in almost 60 films, receiving 14 Academy Award nominations and two awards--Best Actor and Best Picture for Hamlet in 1948. Olivier played a wide variety of awards, and was considered one of the greatest Shakespearean actors of the 20th century. Olivier was married to actress Vivien Leigh for 20 years, in what must have been a highly dramatic pairing. He acted until his death in 1989. This picture of Olivier was taken in 1939.

Bernard Shaw (1940- ) CNN anchorman whom I remember best as the face of the Gulf War in 1991. His deep voice and ease before the camera made Shaw a natural as a television anchorman.

May 22 in History

In 1939 Hitler and Mussolini signed the "Pact of Steel" between Germany and Italy. Unlike Hitler's alliance with the Soviet Union, this "axis" stayed together throughout World War II.

In 1972 President Nixon became the first U.S. President to visit the Soviet Union. Nixon's outreach to both the Soviet Union and China will likely be remembered as the highpoints of an otherwise disappointing (Vietnam, Watergate) presidency.

In 1992 Johnny Carson retired as host of the Tonight Show. The fallout from this event reverberates today as Jay Leno was chosen over David Letterman as Carson's successor, causing Letterman to set up a competing late night show on CBS.

May 21 Birthdays

Plato (428 -348 BC), one of the three great philosophers of ancient Greece, along with Socrates and Aristotle. Plato apparently studied with Socrates, and wrote extensively of his concepts. Plato also founded the Academy in Athens, where Aristotle studied. The philosophies of these three men form much of the philosophical foundation of western civilization.

Alexander Pope (1688-1744), English essayist, critic, and poet who was arguably the greatest poet of the early 18th century. Pope made a living with his essays and poems, describe a physical deformity (a hunchback) that made him the target of ridicule. His most famous poem is The Rape of the Lock. His "Essay on Criticism" and "Essay on Man" are his most famous prose works. I studied Pope in college, but what I remember now is his line "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind," from the Jim Carrey / Kate Winslet movie of the same name.

Thomas "Fats" Waller (1904-1943) learned piano at a young age and spent his entire short life playing, composing, recording and entertaining. He wrote the score for the Broadway show "Keep Shufflin'", which featured Louis Armstrong and included his most famous song, "Ain't Misbehavin'". Waller became a recording star after being "discovered" by Victor records at a party given in 1934 by George Gershwin in New York City. For the rest of his life, Waller played in clubs, recorded and toured, especially in Europe. He died suddenly while on the road. It is speculated that his weight, over 300 lb, and lifestyle contributed to his early death.

Andrei Sakharov (1921-1989) was a Russian nuclear physicist who was a key contributor to the development of the hydrogen bomb by the Soviet Union. Later in life he became a social activist, pressing against nuclear proliferation and for expanded civil liberties and human rights in the Soviet Union. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1975, but was not allowed to travel to Stockholm to accept it. For seven years late in his life he was held in virtual house arrest in the closed city of Gorky. When Mikhail Gorbachev came to power he allowed Sakharov to return to his native Moscow.

May 21 in History

In 1881 Clara Barton established the American Red Cross. After visiting Europe on "vacation" in 1869, she was inspired by the work of the International Committee of the Red Cross in the Crimean War. She convinced then President Garfield that a similar organization in the U.S. could provide relief in times of national crisis other than war. John D. Rockefeller provided the land and building for the headquarters in Washington, D.C, one block from the White House. Barton is a hero of my religious tradition, Unitarian-Universalism.

In 1961, President John F. Kennedy committed the United States to a moon landing by end of decade by saying ". . . before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon, and returning him safely to the earth." As a child, the Mercury astronauts were high on my list of heroes. I continued to follow the quest for the moon through the Gemini and Apollo programs. In the '70s we got a recording of historical speeches ("we have nothing to fear", etc.) which included Kennedy's commitment to the moon. My brother and I loved to work on our phony Boston accents by reciting this passage.

May 20 Birthdays

Honore de Balzac (1799-1850), the father of realism in European literature. Overall he wrote over 100 novels and plays about French society in the years after Napoleon Bonaparte's reign. Most of his novels were farcical comedies, which sounds like they'd be great fun. In the movie "The Music Man", both Mrs. Paroo, Marian the librarian's mother, and the women of the town are scandalized by the presence of "Baaaal-zack" in the Madison Public Library, which Mrs. Paroo lumps in there with "Shakespeare and all them other high falutin' Greeks".

John Stuart Mill (1806-1873), British philosopher, logician and economist whose writings on liberty are still influential today, particularly his concept of "harm"--that individuals should be free to act as they want so long as their actions do not harm others. Mill's entire childhood, at least from age three was spent in learning, as his father pushed him to extensive study in history, Latin, Greek, mathematics and other subjects. At age 45, Mill finally married his long-time sweetheart. Sadly, she died after they'd been married for just seven years.
Frederick Taylor (1856-1915), an American industrial engineer known as the father of modern industrial management. The "Taylor system", with its almost militaristic, heirarchical organization structure and specialization of tasks, is still practiced by many companies, though more team-oriented, multitask approaches have become popular in the latter half of the 20th century, as success by the Japanese have demonstrated their merit.
Sigrid Undset (1882-1949), a Nobel Prize-winning Norwegian novelist whom I've included because I read one of her books--a grim story about survival and revenge in 11th century Iceland. Now those were some hard times.

Jimmy Stewart (1908-1997) Much better known than Ms. Undset is the serious but affable American actor who starred in such enduring classics as "It's a Wonderful Life", "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington", "Harvey", and "Rear Window". Interestingly, according to Wikipedia, Stewart was known to movie fans as "Jimmy", but was always billed as "James."

Moshe Dayan (1915-1981) A legendary military figure in Israel, Dayan led the Israeli army to defeat Arab attackers in four wars, but also helped negotiate the Israel-Egypt peace accord. His signature eyepatch helped make Dayan an unmistakable symbol of Israeli military prowess, and the viability of the fledgling nation.
Cher (1946 - ), American singer and actress who hit the entertainment scene with her then husband and partner, Sonny Bono. "I Got You, Babe" led to their own TV show in the late '60s. Later on, Cher split with Sonny, both professionally and personally, and developed an interesting dual persona as a glitzy, big voiced, show-stopping singer, and as a serious actress, who won an Academy Award in the '80s for "Moonstruck."

Dave Thomas (1949 - ), Canadian comedian and actor best known for his work in the '80s with the SCTV comedy show. He had a five-year stint in the ABC series "Grace Under Fire" and has written, directed, acted and produced many other TV shows and films. Most recently he guest starred during the third season of my favorite sitcom "Arrested Development". He did not, however, found Wendy's, which the site might lead you to believe. That Dave Thomas was born in 1932 and died in 2002.

May 20 in History

In 1506, Christopher Columbus died in poverty in Spain. Too bad his heirs didn't establish trademark rights to his name.
In 1927, Charles Lindbergh took off in the "Spirit of St. Louis" heading to Paris, the first Transatlantic solo flight, and still one of the most famous airplace flights of all time.

In 1961, the "Freedom Riders", a group trying to help African-Americans register to vote, were attacked in Montgomery, AL. Just six days earlier, one of their buses was blown up near Anniston, Alabama.

In 1967, the BBC banned the Beatles "A Day in the Life" (from the "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" album for drug references - "I'd love to turn you on" appears to be the offending phrase, but the whole song has been subjec to a lot of interpretation, which the Beatles deny. I wonder what they thought of "I get high with a little help from my friends" and "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds." (they got around to banning that one too).

In 1980, Quebec citizens voted in a referendum to remain a part of Canada, probably a wise decision given that becoming an independent nation would have made Quebec a small, aging and somewhat isolated French-speaking country in a predominantly English-speaking continent.

May 19 Birthdays:

Johns Hopkins (1795-1873), a financier and real estate investor in Baltimore during the 18th century, amassed a fortune that he returned to the community in the form of Johns Hopkins University and Johns Hopkins Medical Center. Hopkins started as a grocer, moved on to banking and at his death was the largest private shareholder of the B&O Railroad. Generous in life as well as death, Hopkins made a annual $20,000 donation to a colored orphanage in Baltimore, and on multiple occasions made loans to secure the finances of the City of Baltimore and the B&O Railroad.

Ho Chi Minh (1890 - 1969) led the Viet Minh revolt against French colonialism, establishing the Democratic Republic of Vietnam in 1945, and finally defeating the French in 1954. A factional split led to the development of North Vietnam, Ho's communist government, and South Vietnam, supported by the U.S, and eventually to the Vietnam War, which ended in 1975 and resulted in the reunification of the country. Ho died in 1969, before the outcome of the war was certain. Saigon, the capital of South Vietnam, was renamed Ho Chi Minh City after the war. "Uncle Ho" remains a revered figure with near god-like status. His remains were initially preserved in a Lenin-style mausoleum, but were then cremated, per Ho's last wishes, which noted that cremation was "good for hygiene, and saves farmland."

Malcolm X (1925-65) - Malcom "Red" Little from Detroit lived a short but eventful life. As a young man Little was a hustler in the inner-city, but in time took a much more serious path in his life. In contrast with Dr. Martin Luther King's message of passive resistance with the ultimate result of integration for African-Americans into white society, Malcolm X (he dropped his last name because of its likely tie to a slave owner, and took "X" saying it represented his true African name) preached a more confrontational and separatist approach. He became associated with the Black Muslim movement, eventually becoming one of its leading spokesmen. But after a 1964 hajj to Mecca, Malcolm converted to traditional Islam and preached that people of all colors could live together, as he had seen in Mecca. In 1965, Malcolm X was assassinated in New York City. The perpetrator(s) were never apprehended, though there was suspicion that the assassination was carried out by the Black Muslims because of his "defection."

Lorraine Hansberry (1930-65) wrote "A Raisin in the Sun," the first play by an African-American woman to be produced on Broadway. The play was inspired by her childhood experience as her father fought a legal battle against segregation in Chicago. Hansberry died of pancreatic cancer at age 34.

Jimmy Hoffa (1941 - ?) was an old-style, confrontational Teamsters labor leader whose ties to organized crime and mysterious disappearance has led to widespread speculation about how, where and why he died.

Pete Townshend (1945 - ) One of the greatest rock guitarists ever, Townshend gained his greatest fame playing in The Who, the British rock band known for concept albums and rock operas. Their most successful such project was "Tommy," about a "deaf, dumb, and blind kid" who "sure could play a mean pinball." Townshen was also known for his onstage guitar smashing antics.

Bill Laimbeer (1957 - ), a Notre Dame grad, who was one of the "Bad Boys" on the successful Detroit Pistons NBA basketball teams of the 1980's. At 6'11" and about 250 pounds, Laimbeer was known for both his bruising style and complaining nature, as he almost never agreed with any foul called against him. After his playing career, Laimbeer coached in the Womens' NBA.

May 19 in History

Anne Boleyn was beheaded in 1536 after being convicted of adultery. In order, Henry VIII was married to Catherine of Aragon (marriage annulled), Anne Boleyn (annulled and beheaded), Jane Seymour (died of puerperal fever), Anne of Cleves (annulled), Catherine Howard (annulled and beheaded), Catherine Parr (survived). The mnemonic rhyme is "divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived."

In 1935, T. E. Lawrence ("Lawrence of Arabia") died in England from injuries received in a motorcycle accident.

In 1962, Marilyn Monroe sang "Happy Birthday" to President John F. Kennedy at a salute to the Kennedy at New York's Madison Square Garden.

In 1967, the U.S, USSR and Great Britain signed a treaty banning nuclear weapons in space.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

My Jeopardy Board

My daughter got digital cable and a DVR for Christmas, so I've been able to tape "Jeopardy" and watch it after work, renewing my 40+ year love affair with the king of trivia shows. I decided to see how much work it would be to create my own Jeopardy boards. With the help of Google, I was able to create a Jeopardy round, a Double Jeopardy round, and Final Jeopardy. Here they are consolidated into one document.

After you open the document, scroll quickly to the top where the game starts.

Let me know how you did!


March somethingth, 2007: Sometime before I started writing this blog, I took the Jeopardy contestant test online. It consisted of 50 questions. I had about 30 seconds to answer each question by typing in the answer. The exercise was nervewracking, but I thought I answered at least 40 questions correctly. The website said there would be a drawing among those with enough correct answers.

I hadn't heard back in several weeks, so I thought that a) I didn't answer enough questions correctly, or b) I lost out in the drawing. To my shock and delight, I received an e-mail from the show today inviting me to an audition in Houston on Tuesday, May 1. After striding briskly (I don't run any more) into the kitchen to tell my family, I went back to my computer to accept the invitation just 47 hours before their 48 hour deadline. According to the Jeopardy website, the Houston audition will consist of: 1) Being tested with a new, different 50-question test, 2) Playing a "mock version" of JEOPARDY! to assess your game-playing skills, 3) A short personality interview. Passing the audition puts a potential contestant in a pool to appear on the show within one year, but doesn't guarantee an appearance.

April 16: My study regimen proceeds in fits and jerks. I printed a few lists from the Internet (Presidents, countries, states, lakes and rivers, Academy Award winners, etc.) and ordered two almanacs, which arrived today. They are dauntingly thick, but relevant. I read about US history (up through aboaut 1776) and found a list of U.S. Supreme Court Justices (a recent "WWTBaM?" question asked which President had not nominated a Supreme Court justice (choices were Coolidge, Hoover, Ford and Carter)). One of the almanacs identified this fact directly (Carter). I imagine that almanacs are an important source for "WWTBaM?" writers.

I also started working through a huge list of units of measure from a website posted by the University of North Carolina. I'm up to B. Hopefully they'll quiz me on the ones in the front of the alphabet. Did you know that a "blink" is an official unit of time equal to 0.864 seconds (one one hundred thousandth of a day)? It is also known as a metric second. A barleycorn is 1/3 of an inch. It's an Old English unit based on the typical length of a barleycorn seed. The English length units are built up from barleycorns (3 per inch; 12 inches per foot; etc.). A bovate is an Old English unit of land area equal to about 15 acres. It's the amount of land that could be farmed with one ox (a bovine creature; hence bovate).

One side of me says if you haven't learned it in 50 years, you're not gonna cram it in now. The other side says "study!" You might pick up that odd fact that makes the difference. As with much of my life, I walk the middle ground, studying, but not fanatically.

April 30 early a.m. The Jeopardy audition is coming up on Tuesday. I should be asleep but sleep has been an unpredictable habit lately--2 hours one night; 10 the next, then a nap. A 2-hour nap between 2:30 and 4:30 on Sunday afternoon appears to be keeping me up now. I've picked up the studying pace, but still am hoping that 50+ years of facts collected in my head will do the trick (I never got past "b" studying units of measure). Reading the almanacs has been interesting, however. I decided to start a new running post (Daily D-Gest) with doses of facts from history, birthdays, and news that doesn't quite make up a post of its own. We're planning to leave town at about 3 p.m. and eat crawfish on the way, trying to arrive in Houston after rush hour traffic subsides and before it gets too late.

May 2: I'm back from the Jeopardy audition. It was a very long day, probably too long, but 12 hours of sleep last night helped my recovery.

The audition went very well, but I won't know if I've been chosen for the show until the phone rings (or doesn't) sometime in the next 12 months. I got at least four wrong out of 50 on the written test (and maybe five if they don't accept "loll" rather than "wallow" as something that pigs do in the mud (the category was "first and last letter the same", so at least I met that criteria)). In the "mock game", I showed good "button skills" and spoke up with good energy and enthusiasm. I only missed one question about a French movie from 1973 ("Day For Night"), which I mistook for a Swedish movie (a guess, I'm afraid, though now I remember the movie being directed by Frenchman Francois Truffaut; "Day for Night" just sounded Swedish, with their midnight suns and all). I also did well in the postgame interview segment where I talked about the 10,000 games of online Scrabble that I've played. The moderator asked if I'd ever met any online opponents in person, so I got to tell the story of meeting a senior citizen online tormenter of mine from Toronto, only to learn that she was rated 300-400 points below me by the NSA.

The Jeopardy crew was auditioning two groups of about 25 each in Houston after spending a day in Dallas doing the same thing. I'm sure there are other audition sites. They need 400 contestants for a year, but they didn't say how many would be in the pool. The 400 will be chosen at random from those names that are put in the pool based on the live audition.

The whole experience was a blast, albeit it a tiring one. I hope I didn't suck up too much with my comment about "fulfilling a lifelong dream" and telling them what a great job they do choosing contestants (they do--the players I've seen this year have all been very smart--winning comes down to getting categories you know and working the signaling device (the button)).

Sorry I don't have any pictures--I took my camera and then left it in the car. The Westin Oaks hotel in the Galleria isn't that exciting, and the audition was tucked well in the back, apparently to discourage groupies and walk-ins, since it was an invitation-only event. I don't think you're missing much. I doubt they'd have let me photograph in the "inner sanctum" of the game room.

I'll post again if and when Jeopardy! calls.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Daily D-Gest Week Three (May 12-18)

May 18 Birthdays

Omar Khayyam (1048-1131) - Persian poet, philosopher, mathematician and astronomer, his is the earliest birth year of all those I've listed thus far, today being the 959th anniversary of his birth. He's most famous for his collection of poems, "The Rubaiyat", but based on my reading, more accomplished as a mathematician and astronomer. He calculated the length of a solar year at 365.24219858156 days, a figure that is good to six decimal places.

Bertrand Russell (1872-1970) - British philosopher, logician and social critic, who won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1950, Russell was vocal anti-war and anti-nuclear protestor, and founded the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament in 1958 at the age of 86. He also promoted analytic philosophy--the use of logic and the scientific to resolve philosophic questions.

Meredith Willson (1902-1984) - This American composer and playwright was most famous for the musical "The Music Man", which premiered on Broadway in 1957, was adapted into a film of the same name in 1962, and to this day remains of of the all-time great musicals. Willson called the musical "an Iowaan's tribute to his home state". I saw the movie in the theatre when I was about eight years old. We had the soundtrack album and I learned all the lyrics. To this day, I can sing all of "Lida Rose", "Good Night My Someone" and "Marian (Madame Librarian)" and most of even such lyrics-heavy songs as "Trouble" and "Got To Give Iowa a Try". The Beatles even covered "Til There Was You" from the show on a 1963 album.

Pope John Paul II (1920-2005) - Born Karol Wojtyla in Poland, and chosen in 1978 as the first non-Italian Pope in more than 400 years, John Paul II served 26 years, the second longest tenure of modern times. Fluent in ten languages, he travelled to more than 100 countries during his papacy. Charismatic and athletic during his early years as Pope, John Paul II contracted Parkinson's disease in 1992 and fought various diseases in the last years of his reign. He is widely credited as helping bring about the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe. He also spoke out strongly against abortion, contraception, war, fascism, dictatorship and unrestrained capitalism.

Brooks Robinson (1937) - To tell you about this Hall of Fame third baseman who played his entire 23-year career for Baltimore Orioles, I don't have to look up much. As the slick-fielding (nicknamed "the human vacuum cleaner") and strong hitting 3rd baseman for the Orioles during the '60s and early '70s, Robinson tormented my favorite team of that era, the New York Yankees (I later got over this affliction). The 1970 World Series was the pinnacle of Robinson's career, as he led the Orioles to a decisive win over the powerful Cincinnati Reds in the World Series with a series of acrobatic defensive plays and clutch hits.

Reggie Jackson (1946) - Slugging Hall of Fame outfielder nicknamed "Mr. October", Jackson was the most dynamic baseball star of the '70s and one of the most in any sport of that era. His career started with the Oakland A's, which he helped win three straight World Series in the early '70s. From Oakland he moved to the New York Yankees, where, as the self-described "straw that stirs the drink", he led the Yankees to World Series titles in 1977 and 1978. Jackson finished his career with 566 home runs, but his four most famous home runs aren't included in that total. In the 1977 World Series Reggie hit three home runs in one game vs. the Dodgers. And in the 1971 All-Star Game in Detroit, a young Jackson hit a shot off a light standard that remains one of the longest home runs ever hit in a major league stadium.

On May 18 in history:

In 1804, Napoleon Bonaporte was declared Emperor of France, Napoleon I. The title was a promotion of sorts from Napoleon Bonaparte's previous roles as "consul for life". As emperor, Napoleon set about expanding his empire--he defeated an Austro-Russian army at Austerlitz, seized Naples and made his brother Joseph king there, converted the Dutch Republic into the Kingdom of Holland with his brother Louis as king, and ruled most of Germany as the Confederation of the Rhine. After defeating Prussia at Jena, Napoleon negotiated with Russia to take over part of Prussia, and added several of entities to the empire, including Westphalia and Warsaw. He seized Portugal in 1807, and fought for Spain for five years in the so-called Peninsular War without accomplishing a complete takeover, despite installing brother Joseph as King of Spain.

In 1810 he married Austrian archduchess Marie Louise, and annexed The Ilyrian provinces (much of the Balkan peninsula), Bremen, Lubeck and Holland (supplanting Louis as ruler) as the French Empire reached its greatest expanse. In 1812 Napoleon launched a disastrous invasion of Russia, and when defeated, eventually abdicated into exile to the island of Elba. Less than a year later, in March 1815, Napoleon escaped Elba and led a return to Paris. He was welcomed by many of the French, however, his former enemies in Europe banded together to defeat Napoleon once and for all at Waterloo. After this defeat Napoleon was exiled to the even more remote island of St. Helena, where he remained until his death in 1821.

Moreso than other emperors in history, Napoleon proved to be an adept civil adminstrator who brought about many reforms benefitting common people.

The Republican Party nominated Abraham Lincoln for President in 1860. At the Lincoln was elected in November 1860, there were five living ex-Presidents, none of which were Republicans, given that Lincoln was the young party's first successful candidate.

Mount St. Helens in Washington state erupted in 1980, killing 57 people. The cloud of ash and gases from the eruption reached as high as 12 miles. Life was damaged in an area of 70 square miles. The mountain lost over 1,400 feet of elevation as a result of the blast.

May 17 Birthdays: I found interesting people from all walks of life who were born on May 17.

Edward Jenner (1749 - 1823) was an English country doctor introduced the smallpox vaccine, in time saving millions of lives as one estimate claimed that 20% of the population contracted the disease and 60% of those died from it.

Ayatollah Khomeini (1900 -89) was spiritual leader of Iranian revolution and the religious ruler of Iran from 1979 until his death. Khomeini spent 15 years in exile in Iraq and France before returning to Iran in 1979 after the Shah left the country for medical treatment in the U.S. Younger Americans may not remember that Khomeini represented the "face of evil" in the 1980's moreso than the later infamous Saddam Hussein, particularly after 51 hostages were held at the U.S. Embassy in Teheran for over a year.

James "Cool Papa" Bell (1903 - 91) - Negro League baseball star, said by many to be the fastest player in that league and perhaps in all of baseball. Satchel Paige said that Bell "would have made Jesse Owens look like he was walking." Paige also claimed that Bell could turn out the lights at the wall switch and be in bed before it got dark.

Archibald Cox (1912 - 2004) - a giant in the legal profession, Cox served as Solicitor General to President Kennedy and was the first special prosecutor for the Watergate scandal. He was fired upon President Nixon's orders in the "Saturday Night Massacre" after learning of Nixon's secret White House tapes, and pressing to get them for his investigation. Cox went on to lead Common Cause, an independent government watchdog organization.

Idi Amin (1928 - 2003; although some accounts have him born in 1924 or 1925) seized power in Uganda in a military coup and ruled as dictator until fleeing the country in 1979. It's estimated that between 80,000 and 500,000 Ugandans were killed during his murderous regime. Check out this self-bestowed title "His Excellency President for Life, Field Marshal Al Hadji Doctor Idi Amin, VC, DSO, MC, Lord of All the Beasts of the Earth and Fishes of the Sea, and Conqueror of the British Empire in Africa in General and Uganda in Particular". The self-aggrandizing part of Amin's personality was captured brilliantly by actor Forrest Whitaker in the film "The Last King of Scotland".

American film actor Dennis Hopper was born on May 17, 1936 and gained early fame for the counterculture classic "Easy Rider", which he both directed and starred in. His list of acting credits is 200 entries long, and includes such films as "Rebel Without a Cause", "Giant", and "Gunfight at the O.K. Corral" from the '50s and more recent efforts, "Waterworld" and the TV show "24".

Sugar Ray Leonard, born in 1956 was an American boxer who came to prominence during the 1976 Summer Olympics in Montreal and went to become champion in the welterweight, light middleweight and middleweight divisions. Leonard was the most famous boxer of the '80s. His victories over Panamanian Roberto Duran in 1980 (in which Duran quit in midfight, declaring "no mas" (no more)), Thomas "The Hit Man" Hearns, and after a second retirement, over middleweight Marvin Hagler in 1987 were nationwide sports spectacles. Leonard fought off and on until a humiliating loss as a 40-year old in 1997 to lightweight Hector "Macho" Camacho. The personable and versatile Leonard will be remembered as one of the most popular and successful boxers in American history.

May 17 in History

On May 17, 1875 the first Kentucky Derby was run. Aristides ws the winner. This year's 133rd running was won by Street Sense. I went to the 102nd Derby in 1976, which was won by Bold Forbes. For the price of $10, I got to stand in the infield and see about 1/8 of a mile of the race. Mint juleps, which were mostly sugar and ice, were available for $5.

In 1954, the U.S. Supreme Court reversed the "separate but equal" doctrine in Brown v. Board of Education, a landmark decision in the civil rights movement that outlawed racial segregation in schools. Arguing on behalf of Brown was attorney Thurgood Marshall, who later served as the first African-American Supreme Court Justice.

And most recently, on May 17, 1973, the U.S. Senate Committee investigating the Watergate scandals began its televised proceedings. "Senator" Sam Ervin of North Carolina, a self-described "ol' country lawyer," chaired the proceedings. During the hearings, White House Counsel John Dean testified that Attorney General John Mitchell had authorized the break-in to the Democratic Party headquarters at the Watergate complex, and that President Nixon had authorized "hush money" to be paid to the burglars. Here's Sen. Ervin's picture from the Senate Historical Office.

May 16 Birthdays: William Seward, Secretary of State under President Lincoln, was born on this date in 1801. He also served two terms as U.S. Senator from New York before the Civil War, and was injured in the same attack that killed Lincoln in 1865. Seward's most important act was the purchase of the Alaskan Territory from Russia, a transaction long known as "Seward's Folly", but now seen as a bargain at any price, as Alaska provides critical national resources along with keeping the to-be Soviet Union out of North America at a much later time.

From the entertainment world, I'll pick actor Henry Fonda (1905-83) who had long career on both stage and screen ("The Grapes of Wrath", "Mr. Roberts", "12 Angry Men"), culminating with an Academy Award for his performance in "Old Golden Pond" in 1982, shortly before his death. Fonda was the father of Jane Fonda and Peter Fonda. Here he is as Tom Joad in "The Grapes of Wrath."

Making me feel old is the celebration of Russian gymnast Olga Korbut's 52nd birthday today. Korbut won three gold medals as a 17-year old in the 1972 Olympic games in Munich, which I remember watching from a dorm common room as an 18-year old freshman that year.

I'll wrap up May 16 with the 41st birthday of Janet Jackson, who keeps herself up pretty well as evidenced by the infamous "wardrobe malfunction" performance at the Super Bowl a couple of years ago. Sister to the Jackson Five of the early '70s, Janet has surpassed all but her brother Michael in terms of success in the music industry. Despite the wardrobe incident, she still trails Michael in overall weirdness as well.

May 16 in History: Here are a range of items. In 1920, Pope Benedict XV canonized Joan of Arc as a saint (I thought this happened much earlier, but I don't know why--perhaps it's because she's a saint most people are aware of, although a shocking number of people, when asked, identify her as Noah's wife).

On May 16, 1965, Campbell Soup launched "SpaghettiOs" under the Franco-American brand. Lunch for little kids has never been the same. To my knowledge, the slogan "Oh, Oh, SpaghettiOs!" survives to this day. The product line has been expanded to include nine other varieties, including five that are not even Os ("A to Zs" and "Fun Shapes")

In 1966, the Communist Party of China issued its "May 16 Notice", which launched the Cultural Revolution, a period in Mao Zedong's reign which created a personality cult on his behalf and that resulted in millions of "intellectuals" (read educated people) being exiled or purged. The period is now viewed as a failure of both Chinese Communism and Mao, although it has not seriously damaged Mao's revered status as the leader of the Chinese revolution that created the People's Republic of China.

I learned today on "Jeopardy!" (they had a category "May 16 in History") that King Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette were married on May 16, 1770. I felt like I had to post this, having recently seen the movie "Marie Antoinette." They also asked which saint was canonized on this date 490 years after her death. Read "dadlak" and prepare to compete on Jeopardy!

May 15 Birthdays: L. Frank Baum, author "The Wizard of Oz", born May 15, 1856. Baum, a merchant by trade, loved to tell stories to children. His first books of Mother Goose and Father Goose stories and poems were great successes. "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz", which he published in 1900, became cemented in American culture via the 1939 motion picture of the same name. Even kids today can sing "Follow the Yellow Brick Road." A Socialist politically, Baum's Emerald City was his idea of a socialist utopia. This statement really didn't make it to the movie, though the song "Merry Old Land of Oz" contains the wonderful line, "We get up at noon and start to work at one / Take an hour for lunch and then at two we're done / Jolly good fun!" which beats even the socialist vision.

Pierre Curie, Nobel Prize-winning French physicist, born in 1859. With Marie Curie, formed undoubtedly the greatest husband/wife physics team of all time.
Don Nelson, Boston Celtics star and long-time NBA coach (currently with Golden State Warriors), born May 15, 1940. Nelson was a great shooter with the Celtics, and annoying to opposing fans (at least to me as a fan of the Sixers) as he didn't have a great basketball body or a wealth of talent otherwise. His coaching career has taken him all around the NBA, but never to the heights of an NBA title.

Emmitt Smith, NFL's all-time leading rusher and long-time star of Dallas Cowboys turns 38 today. No doubt the most durable running back in NFL history, Smith was never the biggest guy on the field or the fastest, but with quick feet and determination, he always seemed to move the ball upfield. I watched him play in college when he and his Florida Gators beat the hometown LSU Tigers.

In an earlier post, it appears that I saluted one birthday celebrant a couple of days early. Celebrating her 70th birthday today, May 15, is the first female U.S. Secretary of State Madeline Albright, who also served President Clinton as Ambassador to the U.N. Ms. Albright has a new book, "The Mighty and the Almighty" about the intersection of religion and international politics that looks very interesting. She was born as Marie Jana Korbelov√° in Czechoslovakia shortly before the country was annexed by Nazi Germany.

May 15 in History: In 1800 on this date, President John Adams ordered the federal goverment to pack up and leave Philadelphia and relocate to Washington, D.C. by June 15, 1800. June 11, 1800 was Philadelphia's last official day as the nation's capital.

On May 15, 1972, Alabama Governor George Wallace was shot in Laurel, Maryland while campaigning for the Democratic nomination for President. The assailant was identified as Arthur Bremer. Wallace was permanently paralyzed from the waist down, ending his presidential bid. During his political career Wallace made an remarkable apparent transformation from a hardcore segregationist to a reformed friend of African-Americans who overwhelmingly supported him in his last succesful run for Governor in 1983.

May 14 Birthdays: It's movie day. "Star Wars" director George Lucas was born on May 10, 1944. His Industrial Light and Magic group pioneered the age of special effects driven movies, and paved the way for blockbusters like the recent Lord of the Rings and Spiderman series.

Young director Sofia Coppola ("Lost in Translation", "Marie Antoinette") celebrates her 36th birthday today. Daughter of "Godfather" director Francis Ford Coppola, she was roundly panned in the mid-90s for her acting (and the nepotism of the casting) in "The Godfather, Part III", but has gone on to become a successful director with a unique style that depends more on imagery and mood than complicated plot lines.

Australian actress Cate Blanchett, born on this day in 1969, has had a great run in the 2000's. She had a featured role in the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy, won a Best Supporting Actress Academy Award for her portrayal of Katharine Hepburn in "The Aviator", and was nominated for the same award for "Babel," a surprise to me since the spent most of the film unconscious after being shot in the neck.

From outside the world of motion pictures, I'll include Dr. Robert Jarvik, surgeon and inventor of the Jarvik artificial heart. Today, Jarvik may be better known as the TV spokesman for the cholesterol reduction medicine, Lipitor, which I take quite successfully. According to NPR, Jarvik's commercial is noteworthy, as it's the first time that a doctor has been paid to endorse a prescription drug in an ad.

May 14 in History: From recent history, the Warsaw Pact was signed on May 14, 1955, creating the "Communist bloc" of nations in Eastern Europe. During the Cold War, the Warsaw Pact nations and the Western-led alliance NATO teetered on the brink of nuclear war. The Communist alliance began to crumble with the fall of the Berlin Wall and the reunification of Germany in 1989, and dissolved completely with the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. Today, many Warsaw Pact nations are applying for NATO membership. My only exposure to the Warsaw Pact nations was a visit to East Berlin on a tour in January 1974. The combination of Soviet block grey and rubble still remaining almost 30 years after the end of World War II stood in bleak contrast to the energetic, rebuilt city of West Berlin.

"The Chairman of the Board", singer Frank Sinatra, died on May 14, 1998 at the age of 82. Sinatra's popularity endured for almost 60 years during his fabled career, and will probably last at least another 60 after his death. Always suspected of having "Mob" connections, Sinatra was supposedly the model for the character Johnny Fontaine in "The Godfather". I found this picture of Sinatra in his "Chairman" days on www.frank-sinatra-de where you can see it and here "My Way" played on a synthesizer. My favorite Sinatra song is one he didn't even introduce, "New York, New York", which was first sung by Liza Minnelli, in the movie of the same name. According to Wikipedia, Minnelli objected to the New York Yankees' practice of playing Sinatra's version after a win and her version after a loss. The Yankees switched to playing Sinatra's version only, after which Minnelli relented and the original practice was resumed.

May 13 Birthdays: NBA bad boy (and five-time champion with the Detroit Pistons and Chicago Bulls) Dennis Rodman turns 46 today. He was a ferocious defender and rebounder, but was more well-known for his ever-changing hair color and body covered with tattoos. He was also married to Carmen Electra (recently renown for her Taco Bell commercial) for a few days. Here's a great picture of Rodman as a blonde Bull.

Legendary heavyweight boxing champ Joe Louis (1914-81) was also born on May 13. Louis won the title by knocking about James Braddock (subject of "Cinderella Man") in 1937. He defended his title 25 times, winning 21 of the fights by knockout. Louis came out of retirement in 1950, lost a fight to Ezzard Charles and was knocked out by Rocky Marciano in 1951, ending one of boxing's most illustrious careers. At a time when there few black athletes with nationwide fame (baseball still being 10 years away from integration), Louis, a sharecropper's son, was a hero to African-Americans and to sports fans all across the country.

I need also to wish a happy 57th birthday to the one-and-only Stevie Wonder. A music phenomenon when he signed with Motown at age 10, Wonder released such classics as "Fingertips", "Signed, Sealed and Delivered" and "Yesterme, Yesteryou, Yesterday" by the time he was 14. As a solo artist in the mid-70s, Wonder won three Grammys with the albums "Innervisions", "Fullingness First Finale", and "Songs in the Key of Life". Despite being blind since birth due to excess oxygen in the incubator, Wonder expresses through his music more depth of knowledge about life than almost anyone with all five senses intact. Here's a picture of Stevie from the late '60s.

May 13 in History: In 1981, an attempt to assassinate Pope John Paul II was made by Turkish national Mehemet Ali Agca. The pope survived the attack to serve for 25 more years.

In 1864, the first soldier was buried on the site of what is now Arlington National Cemetery. An order of then Secretary of War Edwin Stanton designated the site as a military cemetery. Today, more than 320,000 people, including casualties from every war the U.S. has participated in, and President John F. Kennedy and Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis are buried at Arlington. The cemetery also includes the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier (shown here), which honors all the unidentified casualties of war.

May 12 Birthdays: I found a mixed group today. My favorite is Yogi Berra, born on May 10, 1925 and still going strong at age 82. Happy Birthday, Yogi!

Yogi was the catcher for the great New York Yankee teams of the late '40s and early '50s, when he was three times named Most Valuable Player of the American League. He was also behind the plate for the only perfect game pitched in the World Series--Don Larsen's 2-0 defeat of the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1956. Yankee teams anchored by Berra won five World Series in a row from 1949-53. After his playing career, Berra also managed several major league teams, including the Yankees. More than 40 years after his retirement in 1965, Yogi is probably best known today for his mindbending bits of wisdom and observation ("it gets late early out there", "90% of this game is half mental", "no one goes there any more, it's too crowded") and for inspiring the name of the legendary TV cartoon character Yogi Bear.

Speaking of naming things after baseball players, here's an interesting article on the naming of the Baby Ruth candy bar. Denying that they used baseball star Babe Ruth's name without his permission, The Curtiss Candy Company's official explanation is that the bar was named for "Baby Ruth" Cleveland, daughter of President Grover Cleveland, who was born while Cleveland was in office. This explanation is somewhat suspicious, given that "Baby Ruth" Cleveland died of diphtheria in 1904, while the candy bar wasn't introduced until 1921.

The next May 12 birthday belongs to legendary actress Katharine Hepburn (1907-2003), the American-born actress who won four Academy Awards for Best Actress, an all-time record. She made nine movies over 25 years with leading man (and partner) Spencer Tracy.

On May 12, 1820, the women who founded modern nursing was born--Florence Nightingale (1820-1910). Legendary for her work in the Crimean War between Britain and Russia, Nightingale, known as "The Lady with the Lamp", believed that a nurse's care should be provided both day and night. She made nursing the noble profession it is today.

May 12 in History

In a watershed event of sorts, on May 12, 1965, Israel and West Germany exchanged letters that began diplomatic relations.

On May 12, 1949, the Soviet Union ended its 11-month land blockade of Berlin, after Western powers airlifted food and supplies into the city.

On May 12, 1932, the body of the kidnapped "Lindbergh baby" (Charles Lindbergh, Jr., also known as "the Eaglet", infant son of famed aviator Charles Lindbergh and his wife Anne Morrow Lindbergh) was found dead, six weeks after Lindbergh paid the ransom. Bruno Hauptmann was convicted of "the crime of the century" in a sensational trial in 1935 and executed in the electric chair in New Jersey in 1936. His wife Anna insisted for the next 60 years that her husband was innocent of the crime, but no plausible alternative explanation has been found.