Sunday, December 18, 2016

Santa Claus Pagan Origins of Everyday Christmas Traditions and Beliefs

By O. M. Spencer

The Christmas Tree
The angels in the Gloria in Excelsis have probably given us the best definition of Christmas, "On earth peace, good-will toward men." This Christian idea of Christmas, with its love, charity, and for­giveness, has probably found its most strik­ing realization in the Julafred, or Yule-peace of the Scandinavians — a custom, though ancient as the Runic stones, still existing in Sweden, by virtue of a Christian baptism, as a Christian institution. Extending from Christmas-eve to Epiphany, and solemnly proclaimed by a public crier, any violation of the Yule-peace is visited with double or treble punishment. The courts are closed; old quarrels are adjusted; old feuds are forgotten; while on the Yule-evening the shoes, great and small, of the entire house­hold, are set close together in a row, that during the coming year the family may live together in peace and harmony.

To this pacific, Christian conception of the Christmas-time not a few pagan elements have been added, which are clearly traceable, as we shall see, to the old German "Twelve Nights" and the Roman Saturnalia. Hence its mirth and festivity, its jesting and feasting, its frolic and license. The decoration and illumination of our Christian churches recall the temples of Saturn radiant with burning tapers and resplend­ent with garlands. The "Merry Christmas" responds to the "bona Saturnalia," and our mod­ern Christmas pres­ents to the dona amicis.

During the Sat­urnalia, which were intended to symbolize the freedom, equality, and peaceful prosperity of the golden or Saturnian age, all labor was suspended. The schools were closed; the Senate adjourn­ed; no criminal was executed; no war proclaimed. Slaves exchanged places with their masters, or, seated at the banqueting tables wearing badges of freedom, jested with them familiarly as their equals.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Preview: 1963 - Life at the Speed of Sound

When I first began kicking around the idea of writing a book about the events of 1963, the only sure thing that came to mind was the assassination of JFK. But the more I examined what happened that year, the more it struck me, 1963 was a pivotal year in modern history. It was the year that launched the sixties. It marked the end of our national innocence. It began a new era in the Civil Rights movement. The FAB 4 forever changed our perceptions of music, reality, and inner consciousness.

If you were alive in 1963, you're likely to remember three stand out events. The assassination of JFK, the beginnings of Beatlemania, and a rebirth of the Civil Rights Movement.

When JFK was assassinated, it was like the magic candle that lit up the nation was forever blown out. It opened our eyes to the evil around us. In those few short moments at Dealy Square, a lone gunman stole our innocence. 

Martin Luther King, Jr. polarized a generation of black activists like no one else could. His "I have a dream" speech, delivered at the March on Washington for Freedom and Jobs catapulted him into the national limelight. He went from being a "black" leader, to being an "American" leader. The next day, JFK praised King's speech and the movement. The FBI had a different take on King. They designated him the most dangerous "nigger" in America. Attorney general Bobby Kennedy, authorized a series of wiretaps on King that would stay in effect until after his assassination.

Music brought the Civil Rights movement home to the youth of America. Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Peter, Paul, and Mary, and a host of other musicians provided the background music to the March on Washington.

More than anyone else in the sixties, the Beatles changed everything. They brought a generation of youth together. 

Several years after their arrival in America, John Lennon would proclaim the Beatles were "more popular than Jesus." That line caused him a shitload of bad publicity, but he was definitely on to something. 

Kids around the world had had enough of the stodgy 1950s. They were tired of adults, politics, war, and parents telling them what to think, how to dress, and how to act.

Bob Dylan, Peter, Paul, and Mary, and other folk singers sang about political injustice and the coming revolution. The number one album in the country that year, The Free Wheelin’ Bob Dylan, contained no fewer than six protest tunes.  

Monday, November 14, 2016

Book Review: If You Can Keep It, The Forgotten Promise of American Liberty by Eric Metaxas

If You Can Keep It, opens with a look at Benjamin Franklin just after the close of the Constitutional Convention in 1787. The proceedings had been held behind closed doors - intentionally, to keep rumors from leaking out. Curiosity ran high. People lingered on pins and needles - wondering what the Convention had wrought.

     An old woman pigeon-holed Benjamin Franklin as he walked through the door. She asked him what the delegates had given the country. Franklin didn't need any time to think. Without a pause, he responded - "a Republic" - "if you can keep it."
     Franklin's response most likely baffled the woman. "If you can keep it..."
     The obvious response, would have been, "What's the catch?" "What do you mean?" or, "Why? Is there some chance we could lose it?"

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Killing Billy the Kid

Billy, the Kid
From The Authentic Life of
Billy, the Kid by Pat Garrett - 1892
Billy, the Kid, was nothing but a little squirt. He stood something like five foot, four inches tall (some say five foot, eight—he must have been wearing stilts when they said that), weighed about 140 pounds, and had a stringy muscular body. His hair was a sandy, brownish blond, and according to friends—he was a bit of a jokester, except when he was holding his pistol.

The only picture we have of him, shows a kid with a lopsided face, holding a shotgun by his side. But, that can’t be right. By all accounts, the Kid was a real ladies man. They liked him as much as he liked them, so that picture can’t be accurate. It’s more likely the Kid had a boyish smile, that broke into a wide, childlike grin when he was spinning a yarn.

And, by all accounts, the Kid laughed a lot. According to Sheriff Pat Garrett, Billy ate “and laughed, drank and laughed, talked and laughed, fought and laughed and killed and laughed.”

And, that brings us to his real passion—six-guns, and shooting irons!

When he had his gun out—the Kid was deadly serious, and a sure shot.

New Mexico Governor, Lew Wallace, said Billy was “forked lightning with a shooting tool.” The Kid told him he never used a gunsight to take deliberate aim. “I just point my finger at what I shoot at, that’s all.” As he said the words, Billy raised his hand and pointed at the governor.

“Bang! Bang!”

The Kid let his finger do the talking.

Wallace continued.  "He simply permitted his forefinger to rest along the barrel of his pistol, and then, instead of attempting to point the pistol at his mark, he pointed his forefinger at the target, pulling the trigger with his middle finger.”

The idea was when a guy points his finger—it’s instinctive. Think back to the days when you played cowboys and Indians or cops and robbers as a kid. Did your bullet ever miss its mark?

Of course, it didn’t—and neither did Billy’s.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Book Review: The Deal: Churchill, Truman and Stalin Remake the World by Charles L. Mee, Jr.

An interesting look at the beginnings of the Cold War. Strangely enough, Truman and Churchill come off as archvillains and Stalin as the good guy.

Could it be true?

"Churchill was to say, 'It would be a mistake to suppose that the fate of Japan was settled by the atomic bomb. Her defeat was certain before the first bomb fell....' The United States Strategic Bombing Survey said after the war, 'Japan would have surrendered even if the atomic bombs had not been dropped, even if Russia had not entered the war, and even if no invasion had been planned or contemplated.' 
It was no longer necessary to drop either the bomb-as-weapon or the bomb-as-doomsday-machine on Japan. However, if the weapon were not dropped on Japan, the doomsday machine could have no psychological effect on Russia. 
The bomb was therefore dropped on Japan for the effect it had on Russia—just as Jimmy Byrnes had said. The psychological effect on Stalin was twofold: the Americans had not only used a doomsday machine; they had used it when, as Stalin knew, it was not militarily necessary. It was this last chilling fact that doubtless made the greatest impression on the Russians."

Friday, July 15, 2016

Abraham Lincoln As a Storyteller

From a cartoon (originally published in Harper’s Weekly Magazine, 
September 17th, 1864)
Abraham Lincoln is idealized as this tall, stoic, bearded giant who wore a black stove pipe hat and never smiled. The real Abraham Lincoln was nothing like that. He was a jokester. He enjoyed entertaining people with his stories and making them laugh. William Howard Russell noted in his diary, “Mr. Lincoln raises a laugh by some bold west-country anecdote, and moves off in the cloud of merriment produced by his joke.”

His friend, Joshua Speed said, “humor was an integral part of the way in which Mr. Lincoln created and cemented friendships.”

From all accounts, Lincoln was folksy in the way he talked. His law partner in Springfield, William Herndon, described his voice as somewhat squeaky, maybe even high-pitched and shrill. It may have even occasionally cracked as he was speaking.

George Alfred Townsend in his book, The Real Life of Abraham Lincoln, says:

“No man ever told so many stories, and he was seldom known either to repeat one twice or tell one that was hackneyed. His long, variable and extensive experience with common native people made him acquainted with a thousand oddities, and he had a familiar way of relating them that was as piquant as his application of them. It is also true that some of these stories were more cogent than delicate.”

Lamon confirms this, saying “His humor was not of a delicate quality, it was chiefly exercised in hearing and telling stories of the grosser sort.” Lamon says “telling and hearing ridiculous stories was one of his[Lincoln’s] ruling passions…The most trifling incident reminded him of a story, and that reminded him of another until everybody marveled that one small head could carry all he knew.”

Abraham Lincoln in the Black Hawk War

Chief Black Hawk by George Catlin
(from Letters and Notes on North American Indians
by George Catlin, 1913)
Abraham Lincoln’s real story begins about the time he was chosen as a Captain in the Black Hawk War.

Before I tell you about Lincoln, I should tell you about the Black Hawk War. It wasn’t really much of a war. It was more like a slaughter of the Sac and Fox Indians. From the years 1827 to 1831 squatters crossed over into Indian Territory in Iowa and Illinois. They destroyed the Indian’s homes and planted crops while they were away on their winter hunt. Each time Black Hawk complained to the authorities, they told him to let it be.

In 1831 authorities warned Black Hawk, if he crossed the Mississippi and returned to his village in Illinois it would be considered an act of aggression. In 1832 he crossed the Mississippi, intending to meet up with a band of Winnebago’s who offered his people shelter at the Prophet’s Town.

What followed was a mix-up of frontier madness, mayhem, and murder. Illinois Governor John Reynolds called out the militia and raised thousands of volunteers. General Winfield Scott marched his regulars to Fort Armstrong. Zachary Taylor led a group of dragoons in the fighting.

Needless to say most of the Indians were slaughtered despite making numerous attempts to surrender.

Lincoln’s role in the war was minimal. He was elected captain of a regiment in New Salem. Later he became a ranger in Captain Elijah Iles’s company of Independent Rangers. After Iles’s company of rangers was mustered out of service in mid-June, he joined a group of scouts led by Captain Jacob M. Early.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Book Review: The Promise of a Pencil, How An Ordinary Person Can Create Extraordinary Change

Andrew Braun's life story reads like the Hero's Journey as portrayed by Joseph Campbell.

At age seventeen, he set sail with the (SAS) Semester at Sea program, headed towards India, South Africa, and Southeast Asia. Rough seas tossed the MV Explorer cruise ship to and fro, almost swamping the ship full of kids. For Andrew, the cruise was a game changer.

"I'm going to die today," he thought. "I'm going to drown in freezing waters within the next two hours. I was in a free fall. How was this possible?"

Knowing he was going to die, somehow brought out the hero in young Andrew. He found a new determination, a will to live. Surprisingly, the experience brought him closer to his fellow travelers.

On the ground again, he decided to ask one kid in every country he visited, what one thing they wanted most. The answers were crazy. They were totally unexpected. A girl in Hawaii wanted to dance. A girl in Beijing wanted a book. A boy in Hong Kong wanted magic. And, a boy begging outside the Taj Mahal wanted a pencil.

His face lit up like he was given a million dollars when Braun gave him a Number 2 pencil.

Who's to say who's life was changed more that day, the boy who could finally write, or the young man who discovered his life was changed by the power of a pencil?

Monday, July 4, 2016

Can Cartoons Predict the Winner of a Presidential Election - Cartoon Trump, The Simpsons, Family Guy, and Candidate Donald Trump - Part 1

The creators of Family Guy got Donald Trump's
 dander up when they released this image in an
attempt to win the Emmy Award.
Are cartoons a good predictor of real life?

A 2000 episode of The Simpson’s foretold the election of Donald Trump, and the eventual bankruptcy of the country due to Trump’s spendthrift policies.

How’d it all happen?

During a drug-induced (?) hallucination Bart catches a glimpse of a weird alternate future, where he is a loser, musician wannabe, and Lisa is president.  Our first view of Lisa shows her decked out in her best purple outfit, as she gets ready to address the nation. Right off the bat, she clears the air, and lets everyone know she is the “first straight female president.” Then she gets down to business.

Secretary Millhouse stands on the stage next to Lisa. He displays a chart that shows the economy’s downward spiral, while he relates the bad news. 

Apparently, the Donald’s decision to invest in our children’s future was a humongous mistake.

In disbelief, Lisa exclaims, “The Country’s broke! How can that be?”

Friday, June 24, 2016

The Harvard Psychedelic Club, How Timothy Leary, Richard Alpert, Huston Smith, and Andrew Weil Turned on the World

The Harvard Psychedelic Club by Don Lattin is a fascinating look at how three Harvard University professors, and a graduate student came together in the early sixties to turn the world onto mushrooms, mescaline, and LSD-25. 

For Timothy Leary, the journey began on the afternoon of August 9th, 1960, when he ingested some psilocybin mushrooms. That trip changed his perception of reality and convinced him psychedelic drugs would soon become an essential tool in the psychologist's toolbox.

Huston Smith had literally written the book on world religions, The Religions of Man, later republished as The World's Religions. He was introduced to Timothy Leary by Aldous Huxley, another Harvard Man, who'd written The Doors of Perception, a book based on his experiments with mescaline. Leary introduced Smith to his "magic mushrooms" on New Year's Day in 1961. It was a bad trip, but it opened him up to the possibilities of what Huxley called these "heaven and hell" drugs.

Richard Alpert was late to the party. By the time he arrived in Mexico, the "magic mushrooms" were gone, and no one knew how to find more, so he had to wait for his conversion. He took his first "trip" in early February of 1961. 

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Original Account of Wreck and Sinking of the Titanic

(New York Tribune, April 18, 1912)
Titanic Sinks Four Hours After Hitting Iceberg

Giant liner on maiden trip met with disaster
330 miles from Cape Race and went to the bottom.

New York. —The greatest marine disaster in the history of ocean traffic occurred Sunday night when the Titanic of the White Star Line, the greatest steamship that ever sailed the sea, shattered herself against an iceberg and sank with, nearly, 1,500 of her passengers and crew in less than four hours. The monstrous modern ships may defy wind and weather, but ice and fog remain unconquered.

Out of nearly 2,400 people that the Titanic carried only 866 are known to have been saved, and most of these were women and children. They were taken from small boats by the Cunard Liner Carpathia, which found when she ended her desperate race against time, only the boats, a sea strewn with the wreckage of the lost ship, and the bodies of drowned men and women.

Among the 1.480 passengers of the giant liner were Col. John Jacob Astor and his wife, Isador Straus, Major Archibald W. Butt, aid to President Taft; George D. Widener and Mrs. Widener of Philadelphia. Mr. and Mrs. Henry S. Harper, William T. Stead, the London journalist; F. D. Millet, the artist, and many more whose names are known on both sides of the Atlantic. The news that few besides women and children were saved caused the greatest apprehension as to the fate of these.

The text of the message from the steamer Olympic reporting the sinking of the Titanic and the rescue of 675 survivors also expressed the opinion that 1,800 lives were lost. "Loss likely total 1,800 souls," the dispatch said in its concluding sentence.

It is hoped and believed here that this is unless the Titanic had more passengers on board than was reported. She carried about 2,200 persons, including passengers and crew.
Deducting 675, the known saved, would indicate a loss of more than 1,500 persons.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Uncle Sam Flying With Orville Wright

The Evening Star (Washington, DC) July 31, 1909
Orville Wright made a speed of 47.431 miles per hour in his flight yesterday in returning from the Alexandria end of the course to Fort Myer, according to an official announcement made by the trial board at the War Department today.

His speed from Alexandria to the Fort Myer end of the course was 37.735 miles per hour, making his average 42.583.

The Wright Brothers will receive $30,000 for their aeroplane, $5,000 of which is bonus for excess in speed over contract requirements.

Everything is all satisfactory, said Gen. Allen, the chief signal officer, today. The aeroplane will be accepted formally in a day or two and the payments made to the Wright brothers.

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Saturday, April 30, 2016

Original Account of Wright Brothers Flying Machine 1904

Originally published in Minneapolis Journal (January 2, 1904)
Wilbur and Orville Wright who are at Kitty Hawk, N.C. experimenting with the aeroplane of their own make and regulated by devices of their own invention. 

The "Wright Flyer" as they call the machine, is a double-decked, curved aeroplane, driven by a small, but powerful gasoline motor, with aerial screw propellers.

The speed was at the rate of thirty-one miles an hour, meaning that they moved at the rate of ten miles an hour against a twenty-one-mile-an-hour wind.

The Wright Flyer is distinctly a flying machine. It has no gas bags or balloon attachments of any kind, but is supported by a pair of aerocurves, or wings, having an area of 510. It measures a little more than 40 feet from tip to tip, and the extreme fore and aft dimension is about 20 feet. The weight, including the body of the aviator, is slightly over 700 pounds. The machine is driven by a pair of aerial screw propellers placed just behind the main wings. The power is supplied by a gasoline motor. It is of the four cycle type and has four cylinders. The pistons are four inches in diameter and have a four inch stroke. At the speed of 1200 revolutions per minute the engine develops sixteen-brake horsepower, with a consumption of a little less than ten pounds of gasoline per hour. The weight including carburettor and fly-wheel, is 152 pounds. The wings, tho apparently very light, have been tested to more than six times the regular load, and it is claimed for the entire structure that it is a practical machine, capable of withstanding the shock of repeated landings, and not a mere toy which much be rebuilt after each flight. The invention is the joint work of the Wright brothers.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Great California Airship in Flight November 28, 1896

San Francisco Call (December 5, 1896)
Here's another interesting tidbit from the San Francisco Call. 

It doesn't fit in with my current research, but I couldn't let this one go unnoticed. I'll get back to you in an upcoming post, and provide more details about this early flyer.

It predates the Wright Brother's first gliding flights by seventeen years.

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1896 Political Cartoon William Jennings Bryan Beholds an Unwelcome Apparition

San Francisco Call (October 19, 1896)
Ran across this cartoon while paging through the San Francisco Call. Had to share it.

Witness the shock on William Jennings Bryans' face when he discovers wheat advancing in price, while silver holds steady.


Apparently only to the stunned Bryan.

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Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Anybody Remember the Old Wilkins Coffee Commercials? It Was Jim Henson Before the Muppets

Just saw a Wilkins puppet come up for sale on Pawn Stars and had to learn more about them. 

 These commercials are really cool! 

Jim Henson, the man behind the Muppets, created them back in the 1950s to promote Wilkins Coffee. I think, what I like most, is even though they're only eight seconds long, they're funny as hell! It's sort of like an early version of Vine Videos - only they were made for TV, rather than the internet.

Now the way the commercials worked, Wilkins was the stand in for Wilkins Coffee. His sidekick, Wontkins, was somewhat of a grump, and usually refused to drink coffee, no matter what stunt Wilkins pulled. 

The best way to describe the commercials is The Looney Tunes on steroids, or maybe Wile E Coyote vs the Road Runner.

Picture this.

Wilkins is just hanging out with his cannon like most coffee drinking puppets do. He asks his buddy Wontkins, who just happens to be standing in front of the cannon, what he thinks of Wilkins Coffee. Wontkins says he never tasted it. Next thing you know the cannon goes off in Wontkins face, blowing him away in a whisp of smoke. After a brief pause, Wilkins turns his cannon around to face the audience and asks, "Now what do you think of Wilkins Coffee?"

Friday, April 15, 2016

Should America Take a Lesson From Thomas Jefferson's Fight With the Tripoli Pirates?

Think terrorism is new? America faced a threat from the Tripoli pirates over 200 years ago. John Adams favored bribing the terrorists. Thomas Jefferson felt the war was the only way to stop such a threat. 
In case you're wondering when Jefferson became president he kicked their ass. Maybe we could learn a lesson from the Barbary Wars.
Adams "believed that a war against the Islamic nations would be costly and possibly unwinnable. It would certainly require too large a military force for America's budget." He told Jefferson, "We ought not to fight them at all unless We determine to fight them forever."
Sound familiar. Two centuries ago, John Adams hit the nail on the head. He knew then, what Americans today are just coming to grips with. A war with Islam is impossible for anyone to win. Once started, it's going to be unstoppable.

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Thursday, April 14, 2016

A Contemporary Account of the Gunfight at the O K Corral

(This is one of the first printed reports of the gunfight at the O. K. Corral. It was printed in the Arizona Weekly Citizen on October 30, 1881, and is reprinted here in its entirety.)

Wyatt Earp (from The Columbus Journal, 1/27/1897)
A Desperate Street Fight

Marshal Virgil Earp, Morgan and Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday Meet the cowboys—Three men killed and two wounded, one seriously—Origin of the trouble and its tragical termination.

Tombstone Nugget (October 27th)

The 26th of October will always be marked as one of the crimson days in the annals of Tombstone, a day when blood flowed as water, and human life was held as shuttlecock, a day always to be remembered as witnessing the bloodiest and deadliest street fight that has ever occurred in this place, or probably in the territory.

The Origin of the trouble dates back to the first arrest of Stillwell and Spencer for the robbery of the Bisbee stage. The co-operation of the Earps with the sheriff and his deputies in the arrest causing a number of the cowboys to, it is said, threaten the lives of all interested in the capture. Still, nothing occurred to indicate that any such threats would be carried into execution. But Tuesday night Ike Clanton and Doc Holliday had some difficulty in the Alhambra saloon. Hard words passed between them, and when they parted it was generally understood that the feeling between the two men was that of intense hatred. Yesterday morning Clanton came on the street armed with a rifle and revolver, but was almost immediately arrested by Marshal Earp, disarmed and fined by Justice Wallace for carrying concealed weapons. While in the court room Wyatt Earp told him that as he had made threats against his life he wanted him to make his fight, to say how, when and where he would fight, and to get his crowd, and he (Wyatt)would be on hand.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Donald Trump By the Book

You can learn a lot about a man from the books he writes.

The America We Deserve, was published in 2000, and was released in conjunction with Trump’s run for president. It spelled out his political agenda.

Even before 9/11, and the rise of Al Qaeda and ISIS, Trump predicted a growing terrorist threat. He saw it as a natural outgrowth of America’s increasing involvement in regional politics. His solution was totally unique. Trump advocated expanding the intelligence community so they could sniff out dangers before they occurred. The twist was, he wanted to create a national lottery where the proceeds would be used to pay for his spy network.

Similar to today, he was tough on immigration and wanted to control who entered this country. He said we needed to stop helping every Tom, Dick, and Harry nation out there. And, when we did help, we shouldn’t be so generous. We should send those countries a bill for our services.