Day By Day

Thursday, December 03, 2009

This Day In History

Today is "Roof Over Your Head Day", so give thanks for the roofers and carpenters who build them and the people in your own family who make the money necessary to hire the contractors.

On this day in 1648 Lorenzo de' Medici along with his brother, Giuliano, succeeded their father as de facto rulers of Florence. Lorenzo, also known as "the Magnificent" inherited control of the Medici banking empire as well as a leading role in the governance of Florence during the city's "golden age". But his historical fame is based largely on his role as a patron of the arts. Among the artists Lorenzo subsidized can be found names like Leonardo da Vinci, Sandro Botticelli, and Michelangelo Buonarroti. He also subsidized a vast building program that beautified Florence and, through bribes, intimidation, and assassination concentrated political power to the point where he became the virtual dictator of the city-state. His rule was marked by bloody vendettas carried out against his political enemies and by a prolonged war against the Pope during which he and the entire government of Florence were excommunicated from the Church. Lorenzo's wars, political plots, and mismanagement of the family's business, coupled with his lavish expenditures on the arts provoked a financial crisis during which several branches of the Medici bank collapsed. Rather than cutting back on his spending, though, Lorenzo simply looted the public treasury to support his ambitious projects. In his later years he imported the fanatical religious reformer, Savonarola (who famously instigated the "Bonfire of the Vanities") into Florence and promoted his career. Lorenzo died in 1492, before the full effects of his misgovernment and financial recklessness could be felt, but in his wake came civic unrest, religious conflict, ostracism of the Medici, and the collapse of Florentine power. In retrospect a fair judgment of Lorenzo the Magnificent must conclude that he did a "heck of a job". If you are interested in reading about him Niall Ferguson has a long section on him in his bestselling book, "The Ascent of Money".

And on this day in 1989 President George H. W. Bush met with Michael Gorbachev in Malta. At the summit both leaders pledged themselves and their countries to peaceful and cooperative relations in the future. Many scholars consider this to be the official end of the "Cold War". It certainly marked a turning point in history. A number of studies have shown that levels of interstate and intrastate violence have steadily declined since then [here, here, here, and here.] You may not realize it, but we are currently living in one of the most peaceful times in modern history.

Entering the Building:

General George B. McClellan [1826]. Commander of the Army of the Potomac and briefly commander of all Union armies during the Civil War. McClellan was openly contemptuous of and frequently clashed with his Commander in Chief, Abraham Lincoln. After his removal from command McClellan became the Democrat nominee for President. After his defeat he became a writer and eventually Governor of New Jersey. His popular image is that of incompetence and indecisiveness, but historians are divided on the subject. Many consider him to have been a competent, if meticulous and cautious commander and a superb organizer who has been unjustly stigmatized by Lincoln partisans.

Francis Patrick Kenrick -- Roman Catholic Bishop of Philadelphia and eventually Archbishop of Baltimore. He is perhaps the most important figure in the development of American Catholicism. I explain why in my book "Rome and the New Republic" [here].

Maria Callas [1923] -- One of my mother's all time favorite singers, and one of mine. Here's a sample of her work. What a voice!!!

Aaaaah! That's nice!

Leaving the Building:

Maria Ouspenskaya -- You've all seen her. She appeared in numerous horror films, most notably she played the old gypsy woman in Universal's "The Wolf Man" back in 1941. Remember her intoning: "Even the man whose heart is pure, and who says his prayers at night, can become a wolf when the wolfbane blooms, and the autumn moon is bright."? Yeah, I thought you would. If you need more prompting, she appears about one minute into this trailer.

Takes me back to my childhood!