On 9 October 1600, a play by William Shakespeare, “a mydsommer nightes Dreame’”, was registered with the Stationers’ Company at Thomas Fisher’s Bookshop on Fleet Street in London. The first draft was typecast and printed from Shakespeare’s own handwritten copy and was published for Lord Chamberlin’s Men, an acting troupe of whom Shakespeare was a member. However, it would be another four years before A Midsummer Night’s Dream reached the stage of The Globe Theatre with Shakespeare himself playing Duke Theseus.
“Lord, what fools these mortals be”. – Puck.
“I have had a most rare vision. I have had a dream past the wit of man to say what dream it was. Man is but an ass if he go about t’expound this dream.” – Nick Bottom
On 20 September, 2002, Joss Whedon’s iconic space-western Firefly premiered on TV. Firefly is the story of the eclectic crew of the outdated Firefly class space transport “Serenity” as they take jobs to survive and stay out of the path of the oppressive “Alliance” that rules the star system, all the while staying one step ahead of their pasts. Firefly is creator/writer/director Joss Whedon at his finest, and was the creative pinnacle of his career.
Though set five centuries in the future, Firefly deals with real issues with real people, and you could drop the cast and the writing in any modern time period, and it’d still be relatable. Firefly is Joss Whedon’s love letter to libertarianism. No matter how hard the Alliance or their proxies try to keep the crew down or impose their will by violence or coercion, Mal and his crew always find a way to do the right thing, even if the right thing isn’t exactly legal. The world building is top notch, and unequaled for a low budget TV show, except maybe for the original Star Trek.
Firefly has some of the best characterization and character arcs in the business. The ship Serenity is her own character. Mal, the Serenity’s supremely competent captain keeps the crew focused while always thinking of the big picture. His war buddy Zoe complements Mal in every way without being a cliché sidekick. Zoe’s husband Wash is the ship’s pilot and is essentially the stereotypical warrant officer. Cheery Kaylee is the stupid hot ship’s mechanic. The mercenary Jayne is the ship’s muscle and says what everybody is thinking, or at least what needs to be said. The crew is rounded out by one-time passengers: the preacher Shepherd Book, the high society companion Inara, and the stuck up doctor, Simon, and his brilliant and powerful but insane little sister, River.
Unfortunately, Firefly only lasted one season because Fox aired the episodes out of order, and switched time slots three times. Viewers tuned out not knowing the context of the exceptionally deep episodes, or even when the show was being aired. Fan demand brought the crew back together for the full length movie Serenity, which tied up many of the plot lines. However, if you watch the Firefly episodes in order followed by Serenity, there are few better shows in television, and certainly no better Science Fiction shows.
On 4 September 1950, the comic strip Beetle Bailey debuted in the United States. Beetle Bailey was the longest running comic strip still scripted and drawn by the original artist, Mort Walker, who continued to draw until the day he died in 2016 at the age of 93.
Everyone’s favorite Joe didn’t start out in the Army though: he was originally a college student at the University of Missouri. But with the Korean War on the front pages in the summer of 1950 no one wanted to hear about college shenanigans, and only 12 papers picked up the strip. Beetle struggled through college until the spring of 1951 when he suddenly dropped out of school and joined the Army.
The new Beetle Bailey strip was an instant hit, and in weeks every major paper in the country was following the hijinks and tomfoolery of Sham Master Beetle, his friends, and his superiors on Camp Swampy. The strip revolved around the ineptness of those in positions of authority, but was at its best and funniest when it explored the ironic or unintentionally humorous relationships between its characters. The Beetle Bailey cast included Beetle’s squadmates Privates Rocky, Diller, Plato, and Zero; the bumbling but loveable SuperLifer Sarge, Sarge’s competent fixer dog sidekick, Otto, and Sarge’s girlfriend Louise; the enterprising but off-putting Cookie, the stereotypical second lieutenant LT Fuzz and stereotypical first lieutenant LT Flap, the commander General Halftrack and his wife Martha, and every Joe’s dreamgirl: the lovely Miss Buxley, among many others.
I think I’m just going to go behind the building now, put my hands behind my head, cross my legs, and go to sleep.
In the 1850s, the Industrial Revolution was moving forward steadily in the United States, but in Europe, which at the time was technologically about 30 years ahead, it was beginning to slow. The Industrial Revolution was tied to coal, and in 1850s Europe, coal was starting to reach the limits of its commercial viability. Mining coal was (and is) a labor intensive process, and the mines couldn’t keep up with the demand. A new and cheaper energy source was needed.
Everyone knew that energy source was oil, but there was no efficient method of extracting it. The only practical way of harvesting oil was whale fat, and tens of thousands of innocent whales were being slaughtered each year. However, while whale oil was good for lamps, it was not economically viable for industrialization. In 1850, there were only a few places on the planet where oil was known to exist in the ground.
One of those places was Baby Jesus’ Chosen Land and America’s Keystone State: The Grand Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. In the picturesque glens, moraines, and dales of glacier formed Central and Western PA, there had always existed “oil seeps”. For hundreds of years, its former Amerindian inhabitants, the Iroquois and their subject peoples after them, and the hardy Scots-Irish and German immigrants who followed them, knew of this phenomenon. But, they avoided those areas because the hunting or farming was horrible, and not practical.
Enter entrepreneur Colonel Edwin Drake, and his blacksmith assistant, Billy Smith. They formed the Seneca Oil Company in 1858, and were determined to prove that “rock oil” was profitably extractable. With an old steam engine and a drill used for salt mining, they moved to Pennsylvania in search of commercially viable amounts of Mother Nature’s Sweet Sweet Nectar of Civilization. On 27 August, 1859, just outside the town of Titusville, in beautiful and bountiful Pennsylvania, Drake and Smith struck oil. Their discovery (g)ushered (Ha!) in the world’s first oil boom.
Pennsylvania’s Oil Boom first fueled the continuation of Europe’s Industrial Revolution, and within a few years it pushed America’s own Industrial Revolution into high gear. It supercharged the growth and expansion of the railroad industry, which massively expanded, replacing turnpikes and canals, and connected the West with antebellum East. The boom turned Pittsburgh from the center of America’s glass making industry to America’s Beating Industrial Heart.
One can easily argue that late Modern America started 161 years ago today. Thank you Pennsylvania, in particular your sons Messrs. Drake and Smith, for being a net exporter of energy, and laying the economic foundations necessary to free the slaves, defeat the Confederates, save the whales, advance Western Civilization and human rights, defeat the Nazis and Communists, raise countless billions out of poverty, and like a cherry on top, enjoy Sunday Steelers’ Football.
In the late 50s, vicious mob boss Johnny Stompanato owned L.A., and by extension, Hollywood. The stage crew, writers, and actors’ unions were all under his “protection”. He also owned the studios. He made sure the workers showed up on time and didn’t strike, and the studios “loaned” him money, which of course he never had to repay. The Greater Los Angeles’ Metropolitan Area was Stompanato’s personal fiefdom.
Actress Lana Turner was trying to resurrect her career and turned to a relationship with Stompanato, but it was far from ideal. In March 1957, Turner was filming “Another Time, Another Place” with unknown 27 year old British actor, former Mr. Universe contestant, Royal Navy vet, Scottish patriot, and male sexbot template, Sean Connery (OK, I made the last one up. It’s just not true…yet).
Stompanato, being the jealous type, wasn’t happy that Connery was poking Lana Turner (because of course he was), so one day he decided to intimidate him. Stompanato showed up on set waving a revolver around and started yelling at Connery. Connery, unimpressed, disarmed his adversary, pistol whipped Stompanato with his own gun, and beat him to a bloody pulp right there on the set.
Sean Connery just gave a beating to the most powerful and ruthless man on the West Coast. There could be only one result: Sean Connery had to die.
On 4 April 1958, Stomapanato vowed to sneak into Connery’s hotel and murder him, as he had done to others a dozen times before. He was just waiting for dark. But that evening, Lana Turner came home from filming, and Stompanato proceeded to beat her, as he was wont to do. The beating was so vicious, that Turner’s 12 year old daughter, Cheryl, ran into the kitchen, grabbed a knife, and stabbed Stompanato… 12 times, killing him.
Another Time, Another Place released in June and featured credits with “Introducing Sean Connery” as opposed to “Dedicated to…”
Almost exactly three years later, archetypical English gentleman and actor David Niven, by far the favorite, lost the spot for the new role of James Bond to his only real competition: a still nearly unknown Sean Connery.
Duke Kahanamoku was born on 24 August 1890 in Honolulu in the Kingdom of Hawaii. Duke Kahanamoku was an Olympic swimming champion, Hollywood actor, lifelong friend and confidant of John Wayne (the “Other Duke”), and the Father of Surfing. Duke Kahanamoku won the gold 1912 Olympics for the 100m freestyle and a silver in the relay, two gold medals in the 1920 Olympics, and a silver in the 1924 Olympics at the age of 31. “The Big Kahuna” is best known for popularizing the Hawaiian traditional wooden “long board” or heavy board, and his amazing rescue of the crew and passengers of a sinking yacht off of Corona Del Mar in 1925.
After the breakup of Yugoslavia in 1991 at the end of the Cold War, ethnic wars broke out between Roman Catholic Croatia, Orthodox Christian Serbia, and Bosnian Muslims over the status of the various minorities in each country. State control of the media, which pitted the ethnicities against each other, propagated extremism on all sides, par for the course for identity politics. This was particularly true in the largest of the Yugoslav rump states, Serbia. Serbian president Slobadan Milosevic waged a vicious propaganda campaign via Serbian TV and radio that led directly to ethnic violence against Croats and Bosnians across the former Yugoslavia.
In an area wracked by ethnically fueled rage, the most vicious fighting was during the Bosnian War. In addition to the bitter fighting, militias waged a brutal campaign of ethnic cleansing against the civilian population that frequently involved mass executions, forced migration, and systematic mass rape. In April 1993, the UN “Protection Force” (UNPROFOR) declared “safe zones” across Bosnia, one of which was the town of Srebrenica outside of the Bosnian capital of Sarajevo.
The Srebrenica safe zone was garrisoned a 400 strong battalion of Dutch peacekeepers but they only had authority to use force in self-defense, and not to protect civilians. Moreover, they were woefully under equipped, and had no heavy weapons and limited ammunition. Convoys destined fro Srebrenica were stopped and hijacked by Serb militias. Fewer and fewer UN convoys made it to Srebrencia for both the Dutch peacekeepers and the predominantly Bosniak population of the city. (“Bosniak” refers specifically to Bosnian Muslims, as opposed to the catch-all term “Bosnian” who is someone who lives in Bosnia.)
On 10 July 1995, Gen. Radko Mladic’s Serbian paramilitaries and interior police captured the town after a vicious battle with the Bosnian militia, as the Dutch peacekeepers looked on. The next day, the victorious Serbs rounded up 2,000 Bosniak boys and men and executed them. Any Bosniaks who sought refuge in the “Dutchbat” (Dutch battalion) compound were expelled and left to the non-existent mercy of the Bosnian Serbs. Over the next week they detained and killed another 6,000 Bosniaks as they fled the city. 25-30,000 Bosniak women and children were forcibly relocated by the Serbs from around Srebrenica. Thousands were raped in the process.
The Srebrenica Massacre, as it was known then, was the first event over the summer of 1995 that finally convinced US President Bill Clinton, an ardent supporter of the UN Mission, of the impotence of UNPROFOR, and UN missions in general. With little expanded military recourses at the UN to stop the fighting, Clinton turned to NATO to take action. In September 1995, NATO launched Operation Deliberate Force which targeted Serbian forces and compelled them to the negotiating table. The Dayton Peace Accords were signed in December which stopped the majority of the large scale fighting. IFOR, the NATO Implementation Forcecrossed into Bosnia that Christmas, and SFOR, the NATO Stabilization Force, headed to Bosnia later in 1996.
In the mid-1960s, the “Baby Boomer” generation was coming of age and like all teenagers and early 20-somethings, they didn’t understand their parents and the greater world around them. They grew up in the fifties which was an age of unparalleled peace and prosperity in the Western world. This was particularly true in the US which was spared the worst of the death and devastation caused by the Second World War. They didn’t grow up during the Great Depression, and they didn’t have to make the extraordinary sacrifices required by the Second World War. So unlike their parents they were not satisfied (see what I did there) with the orderly two bedroom, one car, 2.5 kids, baseball diamond, soda shop, 9-5 existence that their “square” parents were perfectly OK with. Teenagers found an outlet for their rebelliousness in Rock and Roll.
The Rolling Stones was a blues rock band from London who had been riding the British Invasion wave in America behind the Beatles, the Animals, and the Kinks, among others. The Stones’ problem was that most of their songs were old blues tunes sped up and given their own distinctive twist. Rolling Stones’ manager Andrew Loog Oldham recognized singer Mick Jagger’s and lead guitarist Keith Richard’s untapped songwriting talent and creativity, but they were getting too comfortable with the status quo. In the summer of 1964, Oldham realized they were going to run out of old blues covers, and he needed to force the band to write their own music. So he locked them up in a hotel room, and wouldn’t let them out until they wrote a song. In that tiny, hot, and sweaty hotel room, Jagger and Richards wrote “As Time Goes By”. Oldham, a Casablanca fan, had them change the name to “As Tears Go By”. Since it was a ballad, something the Stones weren’t known for, Oldham had their friend Marianne Faithful record it and it peaked at No 6 on the UK charts. The Jagger/Richards songwriting duo had its first of many hits.
However, by early 1965 the Rolling Stones still hadn’t had an international breakout hit, despite the genius of the Jagger/Richards songwriting team. In May, they were on their third North American tour and their popularity was waning. It looked like the Stones were just another British Invasion band riding on the Beatles’ coattails, just another flash in the pan.
After a rowdy concert in Clearwater, Florida on 5 May 1965, Richards climbed into his hotel room bed. When he woke up the next morning, he noticed that his acoustic guitar was on the floor, and the tape recorder that he kept next to his bed, so he could immediately capture inspiration, was full. He replayed the recording, and it contained two minutes of a guitar riff and 43 minutes of his snoring. He didn’t remember playing the riff.
After some shopping, Richards took the recording to Jagger’s room, and he thought the riff would be great for some horns. Jagger and Richards spent the rest of the day writing a song around the riff. Jagger wrote lyrics poolside. While shopping, Richards had bought a Gibson Fuzzbox, which made an electric guitar sound vaguely like a saxophone. Richards incorporated the Fuzzbox in place of the horns. Later that day they got the band together with Richards playing the opening riff with the Gibson Fuzzbox in place of a saxophone. An acoustic guitar part for him was to be added later. Oldham heard the song, which Jagger named “Satisfaction”, and thought they were on to something. Ever one to strike while the iron was hot, Oldham booked flights to Chicago for their upcoming break in touring.
On 10 May 1965, at the famous Chess Records, the Rolling Stones recorded Satisfaction with Richards still playing the saxophone parts with the Gibson Fuzzbox. The band liked the version, but Oldham loved it. He demanded they release it immediately, as is. Jagger and Richards, as the writers, had the final say and declined: Jagger still wanted horns and Richards wanted an acoustic version more in line with what he found on the tape player. Oldham convinced them that since they were in America, everyone in the room should put it to a vote. Jagger and Richards reluctantly agreed and both voted “Nay”. The rest of the band, Oldham, and the sound engineer all voted “Aye”. Jagger and Richards lost, but stood by their promise. Satisfaction was to be released as soon as possible in its then current form.
Two days later, at Richard’s request, the Rolling Stones re-recorded Satisfaction in California using a Maestro FZ-1 Fuzz-Tone in place of the Gibson Fuzzbox. But by then there was no more talk of acoustic versions or horns.
On 6 June 1965, the Rolling Stones released “Satisfaction” as a single. It shot straight to the top of the charts, and stayed in the top ten an unprecedented three months. The version recorded on 12 May 1965 is the one we know today.
The Stones’ Satisfaction, with its teenage angst, sexual innuendo, and dripping sarcasm for their parents’ world, became the theme song for a generation. (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction touched the soul of discontented people everywhere. Satisfaction is the total package: you can sing it, you can drink to it, you can yell it, you can rock out to it, you can protest to it, you can cover it, and you can dance to it. Keith Richard’s opening riff is instantly recognizable to all of humanity. It is the greatest rock and roll song ever and one of the songs I want played on continuous loop at my wake.
F**k the Man. \m/
After spending a year hunting in Africa, Teddy Roosevelt and his son Kermit toured Europe in 1910. On 23 April, they arrived in Paris and the former president was asked to speak to a crowd of about two thousand at the University of Sorbonne. He spoke on history, family, war, human rights, property rights, cynics, and most prominently, the responsibilities of being a citizen. The speech was officially titled “Citizenship in a Republic” but is now more commonly known as “The Man in the Arena” speech because of this passage,
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”
Other great passages:
“Self-restraint, self-mastery, common sense, the power of accepting individual responsibility and yet of acting in conjunction with others, courage and resolution—these are the qualities which mark a masterful people.”
“Indeed, it is a sign of marked political weakness in any commonwealth if the people tend to be carried away by mere oratory, if they tend to value words in and for themselves, as divorced from the deeds for which they are supposed to stand.”
“The poorest way to face life is to face it with a sneer. A cynical habit of thought and speech, a readiness to criticize work which the critic himself never tries to perform, an intellectual aloofness which will not accept contact with life’s realities—all these are marks, not of superiority but of weakness.”
“But with you and with us the case is different. With you here, and with us in my own home, in the long run, success or failure will be conditioned upon the way in which the average man, the average woman, does his or her duty, first in the ordinary, every-day affairs of life, and next in those great occasional crises which call for the heroic virtues. The average citizen must be a good citizen if our republics are to succeed. The stream will not permanently rise higher than the main source; and the main source of national power and national greatness is found in the average citizenship of the nation. Therefore it behooves us to do our best to see that the standard of the average citizen is kept high; and the average can not be kept high unless the standard of the leaders is very much higher.”
“Shame on the man of cultivated taste who permits refinement to develop into a fastidiousness that unfits him for doing the rough work of a workaday world. Among the free peoples who govern themselves there is but a small field of usefulness open for the men of cloistered life who shrink from contact with their fellows. Still less room is there for those who deride or slight what is done by those who actually bear the brunt of the day; nor yet for those others who always profess that they would like to take action, if only the conditions of life were not what they actually are. The man who does nothing cuts the same sordid figure in the pages of history, whether he be cynic, or fop, or voluptuary. There is little use for the being whose tepid soul knows nothing of the great and generous emotion, of the high pride, the stern belief, the lofty enthusiasm, of the men who quell the storm and ride the thunder. Well for these men if they succeed; well also, though not so well, if they fail, given only that they have nobly ventured, and have put forth all their heart and strength. It is war-worn Hotspur, spent with hard fighting, he of the many errors and the valiant end, over whose memory we love to linger, not over the memory of the young lord who “but for the vile guns would have been a soldier.”
In 303, George of Lydda, Roman officer, Slayer o’ Dragons and patron saint of England, Ethiopia, Georgia, Malta, Portugal, Serbia, Lithuania, knights, armor (and its ailing but delightfully crazy uncle “armour”), cavalry, chivalry, scouting, domestic animals, damsel rescuing, lawn gnomes, bacon, rugby, Rock and Roll, cool stories, general badassery, medium rare steak, and morning coffee with a ‘lil nip nip was executed by Emperor Diocletian for failing to renounce his faith.
May You Always Slay Your Dragons.
Happy Saint George’s Day!