Day By Day

Monday, January 04, 2010

This Day In History

Today is National Trivia Day, so all you trivial people out there head right over to the Trivia Cafe. Today's question is:
Charles Lindbergh, first aviator to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean, won the Pulitzer Prize in 1953 for his autobiography. What is the title?
I knew the answer right away, not because I read the book, but because when I was young I went to see the movie version. It starred Jimmy Stewart [who was born in Indiana, PA {another little piece of trivia -- once I start I can't stop}]. The film was directed by Billy Wilder, and was titled...., "Spirit of St. Louis" [which was the name of Lindburgh's plane -- it is on display at the National Aeronautics and Space Museum in Washington D.C].

Did you know that the singular form of trivia is "trivium" and that it is from the Latin for three "tri" way "via", a common term for a street corner [where three roads meet]? Public notices would be posted at such places for everyone to read and people would often hang out there. To engage in trivia, then, would be to ramble on about gossip and common knowledge the way corner loungers would do. [somebody please stop me... this is getting out of control]

In the fifteenth century the term took on a new meaning as institutions of higher learning began to appear all over Europe and developed common curricula. These consisted of the "trivium" -- three basic subjects taught to all undergraduates [grammar, rhetoric, and logic] and the "quadrivium" [four advanced subjects: arithmetic, music, geometry and astronomy]. Trivia thus came to mean basic knowledge that would be of interest to only an underclassman. Either way "trivial" came to mean something of little import. ["help me..., help me...," {that's a movie reference..., to Vincent Price in "The Fly" -- see what I mean?}]

About half a century ago there was a popular party game called "Trivial Pursuit". It had its origins at Columbia University....

[OK. I think I have it under control. Went downstairs, had a cup of coffee, and checked the day's headlines. Much better now.]

On this day in 1965 President Lyndon Baines Johnson gave his first "State of the Union" speech. In it he outlined his vision for a comprehensive legislative program that he called "The Great Society".

This is the core of his proposal:

We do not intend to live in the midst of abundance, isolated from neighbors and nature, confined by blighted cities and bleak suburbs, stunted by a poverty of learning and an emptiness of leisure.

The Great Society asks not how much, but how good; not only how to create wealth but how to use it; not only how fast we are going, but where we are headed.

It proposes as the first test for a nation: the quality of its people.

This kind of society will not flower spontaneously from swelling riches and surging power.

It will not be the gift of government or the creation of presidents. It will require of every American, for many generations, both faith in the destination and the fortitude to make the journey.

And like freedom itself, it will always be challenge and not fulfillment. And tonight we accept that challenge.


I propose that we begin a program in education to ensure every American child the fullest development of his mind and skills.

I propose that we begin a massive attack on crippling and killing diseases.

I propose that we launch a national effort to make the American city a better and a more stimulating place to live.

I propose that we increase the beauty of America and end the poisoning of our rivers and the air that we breathe.

I propose that we carry out a new program to develop regions of our country that are now suffering from distress and depression.

I propose that we make new efforts to control and prevent crime and delinquency.

I propose that we eliminate every remaining obstacle to the right and the opportunity to vote.

I propose that we honor and support the achievements of thought and the creations of art.

I propose that we make an all-out campaign against waste and inefficiency.

You can read the whole thing here.

Note the assumptions going in. Government will tell us how to spend our wealth. Common Americans cannot be trusted to make choices for themselves because without government guidance they are culturally and intellectually stunted, unable to see what is right and good. All Americans will be called upon to sacrifice, and to continue to sacrifice for ever and ever, because the goals of the great society will never be completely fulfilled. Note how he disparages urban and suburban [middle class] life as vacuous and chaotic. This is a stunning example of liberal disdain for America as it is. This is the liberal elite taking control, not just of Washington, but of the country. Buried within this agenda is a call for federal action to take control of housing, art, education, the environment, cities, suburbs, everywhere people live and work. It is staggering in its ambition and, to me, frightening.

And, in his most terrifying comment, Johnson promises to make government efficient.

Now I'm really bummed.