Day By Day

Thursday, November 19, 2009

This Day In History

Today is "Have A Bad Day Day". Wow! Sounds bad! Wishing misfortune on others -- that's what comic book villains do. But it's not as perverse as it sounds. The commemoration was established by folks fed up with hearing people say "Have a good day" at the end of every encounter. In other words it is a protest against the insincerity of social conventions.

And in the spirit of mocking social conventions I should note that today is also the "Great American Smokeout", or as I call it "Nag your Neighbor Day". Everyone knows that smoking is bad for you so reiterating the fact over and over is not conveying useful information, it is just a form of nagging. So for those of you who want an alternative to the social convention of trashing and admonishing smokers, here's Harriet Harris' famous paean to smoking from the "Frasier" TV show.

Potatoes anyone?

On this day in 1863 President Abraham Lincoln delivered a commemorative address at the Gettysburg battlefield. Many scholars have argued that this "Gettysburg Address" (little noticed at the time) is the most important single speech ever given in the nation's history. The reason? Not only is it brilliantly composed [the story about it being written on an envelope on the train ride to the battlefield is completely bogus], but it fundamentally redefines the nature of the United States.

Originally conceived as a voluntary and conditional union of sovereign States, the United States emerged from the Civil was as an integrated nation in which the supremacy of the federal government was confirmed for all time. As one historian put it, "The United States" became a singular, rather than a plural, term. Lincoln's formulation at Gettysburg: "government of the people, by the people, and for the people" gave perfect expression to this new state of affairs. Big government advocates and nationalists have ever since looked to Lincoln's address, and indeed his entire administration, for inspiration and justification.

And on this day in 1874, William Marcy "Boss" Tweed was sentenced to twelve years imprisonment for having defrauded New York of millions of dollars. Tweed's corrupt political machine was typical of that era and has been denounced by good government reformers ever since. But historians have pointed out that corrupt city and state machines were responsible for building the nation's urban infrastructure and modernizing America in the decades after the Civil War, and provided a remarkably democratic way of organizing the nation's resources.

On this day in 1919 the U. S. Senate rejected the Treaty of Versailles and the League of Nations. Liberal transnationalists have long lamented this decision to stay out of the League and have argued that America's refusal to participate helped to bring about World War Two. Others find that argument unpersuasive.

On this day in 1928 "Time" magazine publishes its first issue with Japanese Emperor Hirohito on the cover.

And on this day in 1942 the tide began to turn on the Eastern Front as Soviet troops defending Stalingrad went on the offense. This was the beginning of the "Great Winter Offensive" that many European, and especially Russian, historians see as the great turning point of the Second World War. Most British and American historians see things a bit differently because such a formulation relegates actions on the Western Front to a decidedly secondary status.

And on this day in 1969 Apollo 12, bearing Pete Conrad and Alan Bean touched down on the Moon.

And on this day in 1986 Mike Schmidt, Phillies third basemen, won the NL MVP award, and four years to the day later Pittsburgh's Barry Bonds won the very same award. What a coincidence!

Entering the Building: King Charles I of the UK [1600]. His attempts to reassert the "divine right" of kings to rule provoked the English Civil War in 1642 which did not go well for him or for the doctrines he espoused. Also entering the building on this day in 1831, James Garfield. 20th President of the United States. Things did not go well for him either. And a very "Happy Birthday" to Billy Sunday, Pirate infielder who went on to be one of the nation's greatest evangelists; and to Tommy Dorsey [1905], a Mahanoy City kid who, along with his brother Jimmy, made it big, very big in the big band era; and to Phillies catcher, Bob Boone [1947], and also to Larry King [1933].

Leaving the Building: Franz Schubert [1828]; Lincoln Penny (Stepin Fetchit) [1985]; and Cab Calloway [1994] another Pittsburgh kid who made it big in show business.