Monday, June 30, 2014

YOSEMITE VALLEY ~ June 30, 1864

iPhone photo:Rob Bell May 2008

President Abraham Lincoln signed a bill on June 30, 1864 granting Yosemite Valley and the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias to the State of California "for public use, resort and recreation," the two tracts "shall be inalienable for all time". This was the first time in history that a federal government had set aside scenic lands simply to protect them and to allow for their enjoyment by all people.

Yosemite Valley (pronounced /joʊˈsɛmɨtiː/ yoh-SEM-it-ee) is a glacial valley in the western Sierra Nevada mountains of California, carved out by the Merced River. The valley is about 8 miles (13 km) long and up to 8,000 feet (2,400 m) deep, surrounded by high granite summits such as Half Dome, El Capitan, and Cloud's Rest, and densely forested with pines. Tenaya, Illilouette and Bridalveil Creeks join in the valley, and flow out of the valley's mouth as the Merced River, which eventually flows to the Pacific Ocean. The valley is renowned for its natural beauty, and is widely regarded as the centerpiece of Yosemite National Park, attracting visitors from all parts of the globe.

The Valley is the point of entry into the park for the majority of visitors, and a bustling hub of activity during "tourist season", with an array of visitor facilities clustered in the middle. There are both hiking trail loops that stay within the valley and trailheads that lead to higher elevations—all of which afford glimpses of the park's many scenic wonders.

Below is a reposting from December 3, 2008:

When I was a young child, my Dad’s study was in the parsonage at 216 State Street, a handsome four story Federal-style detached brick house (circa 1916) next door to the stone Gothic revival church just down the street in front of the State Capitol, a successful architectural pastiche with the general layout of the capitol in Washington, the staircase from the Paris Opera, and the dome of St. Peter’s in Rome (before the church turned the old parsonage into the church offices and bought a grand detached stone house uptown as the new parsonage).

Occasionally I visited Daddy in his study on the second floor at 216 State Street. I remember seeing Thanksgiving Day parades from the bay window. Other times we watched from the street by the green, where we used to have strawberry festivals – before they turned it into a double-sided car park.

This is reminiscent of the McFarland gardens at Polyclinic Hospital. It had been one of the premier rose gardens in the United States, with reflecting pools, arcades, and a handsome bronze fountain of the Three Graces, which Milton Hershey— of chocolate fame— had commissioned for his private garden. But Mrs. Hershey found the nudes offensive; so Mr. Hershey donated the fountain to the McFarland rose garden. J. Horace McFarland, a doctor and a founder of the American Rose Society, had created and endowed these gardens at his hospital.

The connection to the former green in front of Grace Church is almost a direct quote from an old Joni Mitchell song: “They paved paradise … put up a parking lot.” That’s exactly what they did to the rose garden. They turned it into a three-block parking lot. Dad did what he could to prevent it; but was unsuccessful. It broke his heart. I still have a jar of potpourri made from some of the last roses. Dad, however, was instrumental in preserving the Three Graces and placing them in the middle of Italian Lake, just a few blocks from the old rose gardens.

Previously he had recommended the new site above Italian Lake for the relocation of the Civil War obelisk commemorating “The Suppression of the Rebellion,” which had blocked traffic on Second Street in front of the Capitol and had been a genuine traffic hazard. Dad was able to suggest these changes because he had been a friend of the two mayors at the time. Both events occurred when I was in junior high school or at Mercersburg, in the early or mid sixties.

When Mother sold the house on North Second Street to move to a retirement community about thirty-five miles away, I took an extended leave from my job at Neiman-Marcus to assist her. (My parents had bought the house after the Hurricane Agnes Flood.) It was some of the most strenuous physical labor I’ve ever done.

While cleaning out the detached garage, I went through several boxes of assorted objects and papers from Miss Helen McFarland’s house. (Helen was the distinguished spinster daughter of J. Horace McFarland and had lived alone for many decades in her Victorian mansion, Breeze Hill, that had an uncanny similarity to the house in Psycho, though it was a much finer house. Helen McFarland was a close friend of my Dad’s and his great friend, Helen Heisey. The two of them worked together on a Decorator Showhouse at Breeze Hill after Miss McFarland’s death.)

A small Christmas card caught my attention. It had a sepia photo of the "Lone Cypress" at Carmel. I picked it up and read the note. It was from John Muir to his friend J. Horace McFarland and was dated 1914. I happened to know that John Muir died Christmas Eve 1914, and thought at first this must be one of the last things he wrote. But on closer examination, the card was notated “Rec’d 1/10/14” so it was from Christmas 1913. Even so, it’s a very special communication.

The card’s inscription reads:

“Dear Mr. McFarland,
Many warm thanks for the great work you have done and are doing for God’s beauty. Tho our long hard fight for Yosemite Park is lost, some compensating good must come from the aroused conscience of the whole country.Yours with love and admiration

John Muir”

I think the reference was to Hetch Hetchy Valley, which was dammed to provide a reservoir for San Francisco. Even today there is discussion about whether or not to restore the valley to its former natural state. I don’t think that will happen. We really need the water. But I’ve double framed the card, and consider it one of my most valued possessions.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

The Feast of Saints Peter & Paul ~ June 29th


The Feast of Saints Peter and Paul, or properly the Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul, is a feast commemorating the martyrdom at Rome of the apostles St. Peter and Paul of Tarsus, observed on June 29. The celebration is of ancient origin, the date selected being either the anniversary of their death or of the translation of their relics.

Today is also the birthday of former roommate Egon Ross Mang. I believe he's living in Portland, Oregon now. We went on a holiday to Germany when I first started working for Customs in 1983. We lived together for nearly four years -- in the time between Gary and Dennis.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Franz Ferdinand ~ December 18, 1863 ~ June 28, 1914

Franz Ferdinand (18 December 1863 – 28 June 1914) was an Archduke of Austria-Este, Austro Hungarian and Royal Prince of Hungary and of Bohemia, and from 1889 until his death, heir presumptive to the Austro-Hungarian throne. His assassination in Sarajevo precipitated Austria-Hungary's declaration of war against Serbia. This caused countries allied with Austria-Hungary (the Triple Alliance) and countries allied with Serbia (the Triple Entente Powers) to declare war on each other, starting World War I.

He was born in Graz, Austria, the oldest son of Archduke Karl Ludwig of Austria (younger brother of Franz Joseph and Maximilian) and of his second wife, Princess Maria Annunciata of Bourbon-Two Sicilies. When he was only twelve years old, his cousin Duke Francis V of Modena died, naming Franz Ferdinand his heir on condition that he add the name Este to his own. Franz Ferdinand thus became one of the wealthiest men in Austria.


In 1889, Franz Ferdinand's life changed dramatically. His cousin Crown Prince Rudolf committed suicide at his hunting lodge in Mayerling, leaving Franz Ferdinand's father, Archduke Karl Ludwig, as first in line to the throne. However his father renounced his succession rights a few days after the Crown Prince's death. Henceforth, Franz Ferdinand was groomed to succeed. Despite this burden, he did manage to find time for travel and personal pursuits -- for example, the time he spent hunting kangaroos and emus in Australia in 1893, and the return trip to Austria in sailing across the Pacific on the RMS Empress of China from Yokohama to Vancouver.


In 1895 Franz Ferdinand met Countess Sophie Chotek at a ball in Prague. To be an eligible marriage partner for a member of the Imperial House of Habsburg, one had to be a member of one of the reigning or formerly reigning dynasties of Europe. The Choteks were not one of these families, although they did include among their ancestors, in the female line, princess of Baden, Hohenzollern-Hechingen, and Liechtenstein. (Ironically, one of Sophie's direct ancestors was Count Albrecht IV of Habsburg; he was descended from Elisabeth of Habsburg, a sister of King Rudolph I of Germany, while Franz Ferdinard was a descendant of King Rudolph I.) Sophie was a lady-in-waiting to Archduchess Isabella, wife of Archduke Friedrich, Duke of Teschen. Franz Ferdinand began to visit Archduke Friedrich's villa in Pressburg (now Bratislava). Sophie wrote to Franz Ferdinand during his convalescence from tuberculosis when he went to the island of Lošinj in the Adriatic. They kept their relationship a secret for more than two years.

Deeply in love, Franz Ferdinand refused to consider marrying anyone else. Pope Leo XIII, Tsar Nicholas II of Russia, and the German Emperor Wilhelm II all made representations on Franz Ferdinand's behalf to the Emperor Franz Joseph of Austria, arguing that the disagreement between Franz Joseph and Franz Ferdinand was undermining the stability of the monarchy.

Finally, in 1899, the Emperor Franz Joseph agreed to permit Franz Ferdinand to marry Sophie, on condition that the marriage would be morganatic and that their descendants would not have succession rights to the throne. Sophie would not share her husband's rank, title, precedence, or privileges; as such, she would not normally appear in public beside him. She would not be allowed to ride in the royal carriage, or sit in the royal box.

The wedding took place on 1 July 1900, at Reichstadt (now Zákupy) in Bohemia; Franz Joseph did not attend the affair, nor did any archduke including Franz Ferdinand's brothers.The only members of the imperial family who were present were Franz Ferdinand's stepmother, Maria Theresia, and her two daughters. Upon the marriage, Sophie was given the title Princess of Hohenberg (Fürstin von Hohenberg) with the style Her Serene Highness (Ihre Durchlaucht). In 1909, she was given the more senior title Duchess of Hohenberg (Herzogin von Hohenberg) with the style Her Highness (Ihre Hoheit). This raised her status considerably, but she still yielded precedence at court to all the archduchesses. Whenever a function required the couple to gather with the other members of royalty, Sophie was forced to stand far down the line of importance, separated from her husband.


Politically, Franz Ferdinand was a proponent of granting greater autonomy to all ethnic groups in the Empire, and to address their grievances, especially the Czechs in Bohemia and the Yugoslavic peoples in Croatia and Bosnia, that had been left out of the Austro-Hungarian compromise of 1867. He also advocated a careful approach towards Serbia - repeatedly locking horns with Franz Conrad von Hötzendorf, Vienna's hard-line Chief of the General Staff -, warning that harsh treatment of Serbia would bring Austria-Hungary into open conflict with Russia, to the ruin of both Empires. Franz Ferdinand was a prominent and influential supporter of the Austro-Hungarian Navy in a time when sea power was not a priority of the Austrian foreign policy and the Navy was relatively little known and supported by the public. Franz Ferdinand had a keen private interest in the fleet and was an energetic campaigner for naval matters. After his assassination in 1914, the Navy honoured Franz Ferdinand and his wife with a lying in state aboard the SMS Viribus Unitis.


On 28 June 1914, at approximately 1:15 pm, Franz Ferdinand and his wife were killed in Sarajevo, the capital of the Austro-Hungarian province of Bosnia and Herzegovina, by Gavrilo Princip, 19 at the time, a member of Young Bosnia and one of a group of assassins organized by The Black Hand.

The event, known as the Assassination in Sarajevo, led to a chain of events that eventually triggered World War I. Ferdinand and Sophie had previously been attacked when a grenade was thrown at their car. Ferdinand deflected the grenade and it detonated far behind them. The royal couple insisted on seeing all those injured at the hospital. After traveling there, Franz and Sophie decided to go to the palace, but Franz Ferdinand's car took a wrong turn onto a side street where Princip spotted them. As their car was backing up, Princip approached and shot both Sophie, striking her in the abdomen, and Franz, who was struck in the jugular and was still alive when witnesses arrived to render aid.His dying words to Sophie were 'Don't die darling, think of the children.' Princip had used the Browning .380 ACP cartridge, a relatively low power round, and a pocket-sized FN model 1910 pistol.[The archduke's aides attempted to undo his coat when they realized they needed scissors to cut the coat open, but it was too late; he died within minutes. Sophie also died while on route to the hospital. The assassinations, along with the arms race, nationalism, imperialism, militarism, and the alliance system all contributed to the beginning of World War I, which began less than two months after Franz Ferdinand's death, with Austria-Hungary's declaration of war against Serbia.

Franz Ferdinand is interred with his wife Sophie in Artstetten Castle, Austria.

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Two years to the day before the assassination in Sarajevo, my dear friend Marie Bronson married her husband Clarence, Yale Class of 1900. I met Marie as a 78 year-old widow, and she remained a close friend until her death at 97 on February 3, 1989.

Friday, June 27, 2014

HELEN KELLER ~ June 27, 1880 ~ June 1, 1968

Helen Adams Keller (June 27, 1880 – June 1, 1968) was an American author, political activist and lecturer. She was the first deafblind person to earn a Bachelor of Arts degree.The story of how Keller's teacher, Annie Sullivan, broke through the isolation imposed by a near complete lack of language, allowing the girl to blossom as she learned to communicate, has become known worldwide through the dramatic depictions of the play and film The Miracle Worker. (As a ten year-old, I saw Patty Duke and Anne Bancroft in the first run of The Miracle Worker on Broadway in 1959.)

A prolific author, Keller was well traveled and was outspoken in her opposition to war. She campaigned for women's suffrage, workers' rights, and socialism, as well as many other progressive causes.

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Thursday, June 26, 2014

JULIAN ~ 331/332 ~ June 26, 363 C.E.

Flavius Claudius Julianus, known also as Julian or Julian the Apostate (331/332– 26 June 363), was Roman Emperor (Caesar, November 355 to February 360; Augustus, February 360 to June 363), last of the Constantinian dynasty. Julian was a man of "unusually complex character": he was "the military commander, the theosophist, the social reformer, and the man of letters".

Julian was the last non-Christian ruler of the Roman Empire and it was his desire to bring the empire back to its ancient Roman values in order to save it from "dissolution". He purged the top-heavy state bureaucracy and attempted to revive traditional Roman religious practices at the cost of Christianity. His rejection of Christianity in favor of Neo-Platonic paganism caused him to be called Julian the Apostate by the church, as Edward Gibbon wrote:

“The triumph of the party which he deserted and opposed has fixed a stain of infamy on the name of Julian; and the unsuccessful apostate has been overwhelmed with a torrent of pious invectives, of which the signal was given by the sonorous trumpet of Gregory Nazianzen.”

In 363, after a reign of only 19 months as absolute ruler of the Roman Empire, Julian died in Persia during a campaign against the Sassanid Empire.


Gore Vidal wrote a marvelous novel entitled "Julian." It's one of my all time favorites. I have an autographed first edition, I had him sign when he spoke at the Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco just before the 2000 election. When asked whom he suppported, Gore Vidal stated that he had to go with family and support his distant cousin Al Gore.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

George Armstrong Custer ~ December 5, 1839 ~ June 25, 1876

George Armstrong Custer (December 5, 1839 – June 25, 1876) was a United States Army officer and cavalry commander in the American Civil War and the Indian Wars. At the start of the Civil War, Custer was a cadet at the United States Military Academy at West Point, and his class's graduation was accelerated so that they could enter the war. Custer graduated last in his class and served at the First Battle of Bull Run on July 21, 1861. As a staff officer for Major General George B. McClellan, Custer was promoted to the rank of Captain during the Army of the Potomac’s 1862 Peninsula Campaign, Early in the Gettysburg Campaign, Custer's association with cavalry commander Maj. Gen. Alfred Pleasonton earned him a promotion from first lieutenant to brigadier general of volunteers at the age of 23.

Custer established a reputation as an aggressive cavalry brigade commander willing to take personal risks by leading his Michigan Brigade into battle, such as the mounted charges at Hunterstown and East Cavalry Field at the Battle of Gettysburg. In 1864, with the Cavalry Corps under the command of Maj. Gen. Philip Sheridan, Custer led his "Wolverines" through the Overland Campaign, including the Battle of Trevilian Station. Custer, now commanding the 3rd Division, followed Sheridan to the Shenandoah Valley where they defeated the Confederate army of Lt. Gen. Jubal A. Early in the Valley Campaigns of 1864. In 1865, Custer played a key role in the Appomattox Campaign, with his division blocking General Robert E. Lee’s retreat on its final day and received the Flag of Truce at Lee's surrender.

By the end of the Civil War (April 9, 1865), Custer had achieved the rank of major general of volunteers, but was reduced to his permanent grade of captain in the regular army when the troops were sent home. On July 28, 1866 he was appointed to the regular army rank of lieutenant colonel and assigned as sub-altern to Col. Samuel Davis Sturgis, commander of the 7th Regiment of United States Cavalry. While Sturgis was assigned to detached service, Custer was the effective commander of the 7th Cavalry. and participated in the Indian Wars. His distinguished war record, which started with riding dispatches for Winfield Scott, has been overshadowed in history by his role and fate in the Indian Wars. Custer was defeated and killed at the Battle of the Little Bighorn in 1876, against a coalition of Native American tribes composed almost exclusively of Sioux, Cheyenne, and Arapaho warriors, and led by the Sioux warrior Crazy Horse and the Sioux leaders Gall and Sitting Bull. This confrontation has come to be popularly known in American history as "Custer's Last Stand."

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Tuesday, June 24, 2014

AMBROSE BIERCE ~ June 24, 1842 ~ 1914?

Photo:California Faces: Selections from The Bancroft Library Portrait Collection Bierce

Ambrose Gwinnett Bierce (June 24, 1842[1] – 1914?) was an American editorialist, journalist, short-story writer and satirist. Today, he is best known for his short story, An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge and his satirical dictionary, The Devil's Dictionary.
The sardonic view of human nature that informed his work – along with his vehemence as a critic – earned him the nickname "Bitter Bierce". Despite his reputation as a searing critic, however, Bierce was known to encourage younger writers, including poet George Sterling and fiction writer W. C. Morrow. He is known for his distinctive style of writing, which his stories often share. This includes a cold open, use of dark imagery, vague references to time, limited description, war-themed pieces and use of impossible events.

In 1913, Bierce traveled to Mexico to gain a firsthand perspective on that country's ongoing revolution. While traveling with rebel troops, the elderly writer disappeared without a trace.

Today is four days before the anniversary of the assassination of Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo in 1914-- the event which led five weeks later to the outbreak of the "Great War" in Europe. I have a collection of bound "Illustrated London News" from 1912 through 1928 (with only a few volumes missing). On the week of the assassination, anyone predicting a war about to break out would probably have thought of Mexico and the United States. The cover of that week's issue showed General Pershing leading his troops crossing the Mexican border in pursuit of Pancho Villa.

An intriquing twist is that General Pershing was the commander of American forces in Europe after the United States entered the Great War, primarily because of the so-called Zimmermann Telegram (since proved to be a British forgery) which claimed that Germany offered to return Texas, New Mexico & Arizona to Mexico if Mexico would attack the United States, thereby preventing the U.S. from aiding the European allies in their war against the Central Powers.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

MERYL STREEP ~ June 22, 1949

Image: news.image.meryl_streep

Born Mary Louise Streep
June 22, 1949 (1949-06-22) (age 61)
Summit, New Jersey,
United States
Occupation Actress
Years active 1971–present
Spouse(s) Don Gummer (1978–present)

Mary Louise "Meryl" Streep (born June 22, 1949) is an American actress who has worked in theatre, television and film. She is widely regarded as one of the most talented and respected movie actors of the modern era.

Streep made her professional stage debut in 1971's The Playboy of Seville, before her screen debut in the television movie The Deadliest Season in 1977. In that same year, she made her film debut with Julia. Both critical and commercial success came quickly with roles in The Deer Hunter (1978) and Kramer vs. Kramer (1979), the former giving Streep her first Oscar nomination and the latter her first win. She later won an Academy Award for Best Actress for her performance in Sophie's Choice (1982).

Streep has received 16 Academy Award nominations, winning two, and 25 Golden Globe nominations, winning seven, more nominations than any other actor in the history of either award. Her work has also earned her two Emmy Awards, two Screen Actors Guild Awards, a Cannes Film Festival award, four New York Film Critics Circle Awards, five Grammy Award nominations, a BAFTA award, an Australian Film Institute Award and a Tony Award nomination, amongst others.

Meryl Streep is one of my all time favorite actors. But who would disagree with that? Although she's been nominated for more Academy Awards than anyone else, before this year she had received only one for Best Actress! By rights she should have at least five by now. Of course, now there has been a partial correction with her winning the Best Actress award as Lady Thatcher the The Iron Lady. In any case, her performance in Sophie's Choice remains one of the most poignant I have ever witnessed. We overlapped in New Haven for a couple of years. I'm sure I saw her in several performances of the the Yale Rep, though at the time she was not one of the principal stars. She sure showed them! Think of the variety of roles she has played from The French Lieutenant's Woman, Out of Africa, The Bridges of Madison County, Postcards from the Edge, The Devil Wears Prada to Mama Mia & Julie and Julia! But my favorite is still Sophie's Choice.

Today is also the birthday of my friend Ju-ling. Best wishes to you today and always!

JUDY GARLAND ~ June 10, 1922 ~ June 22, 1969

Judy Garland (born Frances Ethel Gumm, June 10, 1922 – June 22, 1969) was an American actress and singer. Through a career that spanned 45 of her 47 years, Garland attained international stardom as an actress in musical and dramatic roles, as a recording artist and on the concert stage. Respected for her versatility, she received a Juvenile Academy Award, won a Golden Globe Award, received the Cecil B. DeMille Award for her work in films, as well as Grammy Awards and a Tony Award. She had a contralto singing range.

After appearing in vaudeville with her sisters, Garland was signed to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer as a teenager. There she made more than two dozen films, including nine with Mickey Rooney, and the film with which she would be most identified, The Wizard of Oz (1939). After 15 years, Garland was released from the studio but gained renewed success through record-breaking concert appearances, including a critically acclaimed Carnegie Hall concert, a well-regarded but short-lived television series and a return to film acting beginning with A Star Is Born (1954).

Despite her professional triumphs, Garland battled personal problems throughout her life. Insecure about her appearance, her feelings were compounded by film executives who told her she was unattractive and overweight. Plied with drugs to control her weight and increase her productivity, Garland endured a decades-long struggle with addiction. Garland was plagued by financial instability, often owing hundreds of thousands of dollars in back taxes, and her first four of five marriages ended in divorce. She attempted suicide on a number of occasions. Garland died of an accidental drug overdose at the age of forty-seven, leaving children Liza Minnelli, Lorna Luft, and Joey Luft.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Jean-Paul Sartre ~ June 21, 1905 ~ April 15, 1980

Jean-Paul Charles Aymard Sartre (21 June 1905 – 15 April 1980) was a French existentialist philosopher, playwright, novelist, screenwriter, political activist, biographer, and literary critic. He was one of the leading figures in 20th century French philosophy, existentialism, and Marxism, and his work continues to influence fields such as Marxist philosophy, sociology, and literary studies. Sartre was also noted for his long relationship with the author and social theorist, Simone de Beauvoir. He was awarded the 1964 Nobel Prize in Literature but refused the honour.

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Thirty-three years ago my brother Sherry (Sheridan Watson Bell, III) spent a year's sabbatical from the U.S. Information Service at the University of Bologna. His thesis was on Jean-Paul Sartre. I've always thought it rather peculiar that he studied a French philosopher while he was in Italy, but I guess the connection was Sartre's support of Marxism. Bologna was, and possibly still is, the communist center of Italy. In any case, the following year Sherry and his family moved to Paris!

Fête de la Musique

The Fête de la Musique, also known as World Music Day, is a music festival taking place on June 21, which is usually the summer solstice.

The Fête de la Musique began in France and has since spread to many countries.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Victoria's Accession to the British Throne ~ June 20, 1837

On 24 May 1837 Victoria turned 18, and the regency was avoided. On 20 June 1837, William IV died from heart failure at the age of 71, and Victoria became Queen of the United Kingdom. In her diary she wrote, "I was awoke at 6 o'clock by Mamma …who told me the Archbishop of Canterbury and Lord Conyngham were here and wished to see me. I got out of bed and went into my sitting-room (only in my dressing gown) and alone, and saw them. Lord Conyngham then acquainted me that my poor Uncle, the King, was no more, and had expired at 12 minutes past 2 this morning, and consequently that I am Queen…" Her coronation took place on 28 June 1838, and she became the first Monarch to take up residence at Buckingham Palace.

Under Salic Law, however, no woman could be heir to the throne of Hanover, a realm which had shared a monarch with Britain since 1714. Hanover passed to her uncle, the Duke of Cumberland and Teviotdale, who became King Ernest Augustus I. (He was the fifth son and eighth child of George III.) As the young queen was as yet unmarried and childless, Ernest Augustus also remained the heir presumptive to the throne of the United Kingdom until Victoria's first child was born in 1840.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

BLAISE PASCAL ~ June 19, 1623 ~ August 19, 1662


Blaise Pascal (June 19, 1623, in Clermont-Ferrand, France – August 19, 1662) was a French mathematician, physicist, and religious philosopher. He was a child prodigy who was educated by his father, a civil servant. Pascal's earliest work was in the natural and applied sciences where he made important contributions to the construction of mechanical calculator, the study of fluids, and clarified the concepts of pressure and vacuum by generalizing the work of Evangelista Torricelli. Pascal also wrote in defense of the scientific method.

Pascal was a mathematician of the first order. He helped create two major new areas of research. He wrote a significant treatise on the subject of projective geometry at the age of sixteen, and later corresponded with Pierre de Fermat on probability theory, strongly influencing the development of modern economics and social science. Following Galileo and Torricelli, in 1646 he refuted Aristotle's followers who insisted that nature abhors a vacuum. His results caused many disputes before being accepted.

In 1646, he and his sister Jacqueline converted to Jansenism. His father died in 1651. Following a mystical experience in late 1654, he had his "second conversion", abandoned his scientific work, and devoted himself to philosophy and theology. His two most famous works date from this period: the Lettres provinciales and the Pensées, the former set in the conflict between Jansenists and Jesuits. In this year, he also wrote an important treatise on the arithmetic of triangles. Between 1658 and 1659 he wrote on the cycloid and its use in calculating the volume of solids.

Pascal had poor health throughout his life and his death came just two months after his 39th birthday.

I had a friend Gail with a poodle named honor of Pascal. At least he was French.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

BATTLE OF WATERLOO ~ June 18, 1815

Wellington at Waterloo by Robert Alexander Hillingford

In the Battle of Waterloo (Sunday 18 June 1815 near Waterloo, Belgium) forces of the French Empire under Napoleon Bonaparte and Michel Ney were defeated by those of the Seventh Coalition, including a Prussian army under the command of Gebhard von Blücher and an Anglo-Allied army under the command of the Duke of Wellington. It was the decisive battle of the Waterloo Campaign and Bonaparte's last. The defeat at Waterloo put an end to Napoleon's rule as the French emperor, and marked the end of Napoleon's Hundred Days of return from exile.

Upon Napoleon's return to power in 1815, many states that had opposed him formed the Seventh Coalition and began to mobilise armies. Two large forces under Wellington and von Blücher assembled close to the northeastern border of France. Napoleon chose to attack in the hope of destroying them before they could join in a coordinated invasion of France with other members of the Coalition. The decisive engagement of this three-day Waterloo Campaign (16 June - 19 June 1815) occurred at the Battle of Waterloo. According to Wellington, the battle was "the nearest-run thing you ever saw in your life."

Napoleon delayed giving battle until noon on 18 June to allow the ground to dry. Wellington's army, positioned across the Brussels road on the Mont St Jean escarpment, withstood repeated attacks by the French, until, in the evening, the Prussians arrived in force and broke through Napoleon's right flank. At that moment, the British counter-attacked and drove the French army in disorder from the field. Pursuing Coalition forces entered France and restored Louis XVIII to the French throne. Napoleon abdicated, surrendering to the British, and was exiled to Saint Helena, where he died in 1821.

The battlefield is in present-day Belgium, about eight miles (12 km) SSE of Brussels, and about a mile (1.6 km) from the town of Waterloo. The site of the battlefield is today dominated by a large mound of earth, the Lion's Hillock. As this mound used earth from the battlefield itself, the original topography has not been preserved.
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I'm not really sure how I first became fascinated with Napoleon Bonaparte. It may have been the movie Desiree, I saw as a very young boy. But I do remember one August at my grandfather's summer house, Zavikon. I sometimes talked and walked in my sleep, and wondered whether I might be able to meet Napoleon... at least in my dreams. I think I was six or seven at the time. Part of the fascination with Napoleon was, and is, that he was a "Great Man" with serious flaws, and almost literally a Prometheus figure: that is, chained to a rock. Of course he wasn't literally chained, but he was stuck there. But think if he had succeeded. There would have been no World War I or II, and Europe would have been unified economically more than it is today, and certainly much sooner. Nevertheless, there was that problem with hubris, and militarism.

I do believe Napoleon was poisoned by his Royalist aide on St. Helena. Supposedly when they exhumed his body more than twenty years later for his re-burial at Les Invalides, his flesh was still uncorrupted. That, I believe, is a symptom of arsenic poisoning. He might still be intact!!

Anyway, before I moved to California, an old lady from my Dad's church invited me over to her apartment and gave me a very handsome bisque bust of Napoleon. She said that I had admired it, and it was for my Napoleon collection. I had never seen it before. I'm acquisitive enough, that if I had seen it, I certainly would have remembered it. But I accepted it graciously. Then my first year in San Francisco, I found my stained glass window of Napoleon, and figured: "O.K. I guess I do have a Napoleon collection." So now I have dozens of books, coins, medals, wine glasses, busts, plaques, and original political cartoons. Who cudda figured?


June 18th, is also the 63rd birthday of the Kaczyński twins, the late President and the former Prime Minister of Poland. They were both short, absolutist, and both seemed -- and the survivor still seems-- to have a Napoleon complex!

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

IGOR STRAVINSKY ~ June 17, 1882 ~ April 6, 1971

Igor Fyodorovich Stravinsky (Russian: Игорь Фёдорович Стравинский, Igor' Fjodorovič Stravinskij) (17 June 1882 – 6 April 1971) was a Russian-born composer, pianist, and conductor, considered by many to be one of the most important and influential composers of 20th century music. He was a quintessentially cosmopolitan Russian who was named by Time magazine as one of the 100 most influential people of the century. In addition to the recognition he received for his compositions, he also achieved fame as a pianist and a conductor, often at the premieres of his works.

Stravinsky's compositional career was notable for its stylistic diversity. He first achieved international fame with three ballets commissioned by the impresario Sergei Diaghilev and performed by Diaghilev's Ballets Russes (Russian Ballets): L'Oiseau de fe ("The Firebird") (1910), Petrushka (1911/1947), and Le Sacre du printemps ("The Rite of Spring") (1913). The Rite, whose premiere provoked a riot, transformed the way in which subsequent composers thought about rhythmic structure, and was largely responsible for Stravinsky's enduring reputation as a musical revolutionary, pushing the boundaries of musical design.

After this first Russian phase Stravinsky turned to neoclassicism in the 1920s. The works from this period tended to make use of traditional musical forms (concerto grosso, fugue, symphony), frequently concealed a vein of intense emotion beneath a surface appearance of detachment or austerity, and often paid tribute to the music of earlier masters, for example J. S. Bach and Tchaikovsky.

In the 1950s he adopted serial procedures, using the new techniques over his last twenty years. Stravinsky's compositions of this period share traits with all of his earlier output: rhythmic energy, the construction of extended melodic ideas out of a few two- or three-note cells, and clarity of form, of instrumentation, and of utterance.

He also published a number of books throughout his career, almost always with the aid of a collaborator, sometimes uncredited. In his 1936 autobiography, Chronicles of My Life, written with the help of Walter Nouvel, Stravinsky included his infamous statement that "music is, by its very nature, essentially powerless to express anything at all." With Alexis Roland-Manuel and Pierre Souvtchinsky he wrote his 1939–40 Harvard University Charles Eliot Norton Lectures, which were delivered in French and later collected under the title Poétique musicale in 1942 (translated in 1947 as Poetics of Music). Several interviews in which the composer spoke to Robert Craft were published as Conversations with Igor Stravinsky. They collaborated on five further volumes over the following decade.

Stravinsky is buried on San Michele in Venezia. His is one of the few permanent gravesites on the island. Most Venetians are buried for a set time, then exhumed.
Ashes of my Dennis are in several locations in Venezia including two rose bushes on San Michele. I was back again last September with my dear friend Debbie Cornue and sister Julie and brother-in-law Tom Martin.
Picasso portrait & text courtesy

Monday, June 16, 2014

BLOOMSDAY ~ June 16, 1904
Bloomsday is a commemoration observed annually on June 16th in Dublin, Ireland, and elsewhere to celebrate the life of Irish writer James Joyce and relive the events in his novel Ulysses, all of which took place on the same day in Dublin in 1904. The name derives from Leopold Bloom, the protagonist of Ulysses. 16 June was the date of Joyce's first outing with his wife-to-be, Nora Barnacle, when they walked to the Dublin village of Ringsend.

I particularly remember one of the earlier chapters entitled "Proteus." It took place at the beach. The character experimented with selective sense deprivation in order to enhance another. So when he covered his eyes, his hearing improved. And when he covered his ears, his vision became more acute. It represents to me how many people who excel in one area may be seriously deficient in another. That's a lesson we frequently forget with our Puritanical standards for politicians.

One of my best courses sophomore year at Yale was a Saybrook seminar on epics with A. Bartlett Giamatti. We read the Iliad, Don Quixote, and James Joyce’ Ulysses among other works. Bart told us that it was essential to organize thoughts on paper. Unlike the popular expression that: “I know what I mean – I just can’t write it down;” he said that if you can’t organize your thoughts on paper, then you really don’t know what you mean. He later became President of Yale, and afterwards, baseball commissioner. He died –literally of a broken heart— during the Pete Rose controversy. I wrote some good papers for his class. Years later I saw him at a reception at the Palace Hotel in San Francisco, when he had just become President of Yale. Before I introduced myself, he said: “I remember you. You’re a good writer.” Perhaps that was merely PR— but it was gracious of him. (By the way he was the father of the actor Paul Giamatti of Sideways fame.)

In May 1996 I visited James Joyce’s home in Dublin now owned by his great nephew. I was part of the entertainment for a group of Texans from Dallas who had rented one of the grand restored and renovated castles on the edge of the Pale, the defensive ring around Dublin; hence the expression “beyond the pale” meaning outside the limits of culture and civilization.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

EDVARD GRIEG ~ June 15, 1843 ~ September 4, 1907

Edvard Grieg (15 June 1843 – 4 September 1907) was a Norwegian composer and pianist who composed in the Romantic period. He is best known for his Piano Concerto in A minor, for his incidental music to Henrik Ibsen's play Peer Gynt (which includes Morning Mood and In the Hall of the Mountain King), and for his collection of piano miniatures Lyric Pieces.

Image & text courtesy

Saturday, June 14, 2014


In the United States, Flag Day is celebrated on June 14. It commemorates the adoption of the flag of the United States, which happened that day by resolution of the Second Continental Congress in 1777.

In 1916, President Woodrow Wilson issued a proclamation that officially established June 14 as Flag Day; in August 1949, National Flag Day was established by an Act of Congress.

Flag Day is not an official federal holiday, though on June 14, 1937, Pennsylvania became the first (and only) U.S. state to celebrate Flag Day as a state holiday, beginning in the town of Rennerdale. Title 36 of the United States Code, Subtitle I, Part A, CHAPTER 1, § 110 is the official statute on Flag Day; however, it is at the President's discretion to proclaim officially the observance.

One of the longest-running Flag Day parades is held annually in Quincy, Massachusetts, which began in 1952, celebrating its 59th year in 2010. The 59th Annual Appleton Wisconsin 2009 Flag Day Parade featured the U.S. Navy. The largest Flag Day parade is held annually in Troy, New York, which bases its parade on the Quincy parade and typically draws 50,000 spectators.

Perhaps the oldest continuing Flag Day parade is at Fairfield WA. (Beginning in 1909 or 1910, Fairfield has held a parade every year since, with the possible exception of 1918, and will celebrate the "Centennial" parade in 2010, along with some other commemorative events.

Image &

This Day in California History
(Courtesy of my brother-in-law Tom Martin)

1846-John Frémont launched the Bear Flag Revolution, and established the California Republic . William. B. Ide served as President of the Republic of California until July 9. Governor Vallejo was also taken prisoner during the skirmish and was moved to Sutter's Fort. Bear flag raised at Sonoma .

1848-The San Francisco "California Star" ceased publication because the staff had rushed to the gold fields.

1850-Howard Engine Co. No. 13 and Sansome Hook and Ladder Co. No. 3 organized in San Francisco . The Sansome company carried fifty-foot ladders, the largest in the state. The company also had charge of the powder magazine at its Montgomery St. quarters for use during conflagrations. Third Great Fire destroyed the area between Clay , California and Kearny all the way down to the Bay. 300 more buildings were lost, and the damages were $5,000,000. The fire started in the Sacramento Bakery at the rear of the Merchants Hotel at Clay and Kearny streets.

Friday, June 13, 2014

LUDWIG II of Bavaria ~~~ August 25, 1845 ~~~ June 13, 1886 ~ 128th Anniversary of his Death


Ludwig II (Ludwig Friedrich Wilhelm; sometimes rendered as Louis II in English) (August 25, 1845 – June 13, 1886) was king of Bavaria from 1864 until shortly before his death. He is sometimes referred to as the Swan King in English and der Märchenkönig (the Fairy tale King) in German.

Ludwig is sometimes referred to as Mad King Ludwig, though the accuracy of that label has been disputed. Because Ludwig was deposed on grounds of mental illness without any medical examination, and died a day later under mysterious circumstances, questions about the medical "diagnosis" remain controversial.

Ludwig is best known as an eccentric whose legacy is intertwined with the history of art and architecture, as he commissioned the construction of several extravagant fantasy castles (the most famous being Neuschwanstein) and was a devoted patron of the composer Richard Wagner.


Just after I started working for Customs, Ross and I took our previously planned holiday to Germany. He had studied in Munich, and still had several good friends in the area. We were there for Oktoberfest, which –as you undoubtedly already know— is celebrated in September. That was one of the few times in my life that I have drunk beer, and half enjoyed it. Of course, Bavarian dark beer is very different from standard American varieties.

The plan was to visit all of King Ludwig II’s castles – and we nearly did. We saw Hohenschwangau, where Ludwig had spent part of his childhood, at the base of Neuschwanstein, his paean to Ricard Wagner (as well as the model for several Disney castles) and the site of Ludwig’s arrest;

[Years ago, I used to eat Sunday brunch at Café Mozart on Bush Street between services at Grace Cathedral. The owner was a Viennese named Claus. One Christmas, he made a large gingerbread castle in the shape of a familiar landmark. “Oh Claus!” I said “ What a wonderful gingerbread model of Neuschweinstein.” “Neu- SCHWEIN- stein?!!!! Don’t you know the difference between a schwein and a schwan?!!!!” Now, I do.]

Linderhof, with it’s grotto and elevated dining table; and Herrenchiemsee with its copy of the Hall of Mirrors, and two (mind you two—though only one was actually completed) Ambassadors Staircases from Versailles, where the original had been replaced. We also saw the room where Ludwig had been born at Nymphenburg, the lake where he had drowned, and the church in Munich, where he is still buried.

In June 2008 the San Francisco Opera premiered a new production of
Das Rheingold, the first installment of an an American Western Ring cycle. Did you know that there may have been a California connection to the first production of Wagner’s Ring Trilogy. (Even though it is four music dramas, it’s considered a trilogy….with a prologue) The connection was Lola Montez, a Spanish dancer, who had had an extended affair with Ludwig II’s grandfather, Ludwig I. In reality, her name was Eliza Gilbert, and she was actually Irish. But she did have an affair with that architecturally crazed monarch. Unlike his grandson, his taste favored neo-classical revival, rather than medieval and baroque. Ross and I visited his large Bavarian maiden— on the edge of the Oktoberfest grounds— which seemed to be a forerunner of the Statue of Liberty.

Ludwig the First was so enamored of Lola Montez, that he virtually turned over the state authority to her. For nearly two years, Lola was de facto ruler of Bavaria. "What Lola wants, Lola gets" was originally in reference to her. When Revolution broke out all over Europe in 1848, the people of Bavaria's main grievance against their King, was his affair with Lola. Forced to abdicate, Ludwig left the throne to his son Maximilian II. But then Max died in 1864, leaving the throne to Ludwig I's grandson, Ludwig II.

The Wagner connection is this:
Once on the throne, nineteen year old Ludwig II responded to Wagner's published plea for help from a German prince. Richard Wagner had been exiled in Switzerland, both for his 1848 political, and recurring financial, indiscretions. Ludwig paid off Wagner's creditors, welcomed him to Bavaria, and financed productions of
Die Meistersinger, Tristan und Isolde, and the completion of the Ring des Nibelungen.

So what's the Lola Montez connection? Had it not been for Lola, Ludwig I, no doubt, would have remained on the throne of Bavaria. He lived until 1868— a good twenty years after his abdication. Lola Montez, meanwhile, ended up in Grass Valley, California during the Gold Rush. She died of syphilis, which Ludwig had given her along with jewels and bad poetry. Had there been no Lola Montez,
Tristan and Meistersinger might not have been produced at all, and certainly not before 1868 at the earliest. The problem, of course, is when you change one fact in history, you may very well jeopardize multiple subsequent facts. But the fact remains, Ludwig II was Wagner's principal sponsor, and had it not been for him, the general operatic public would very likely never have heard of Brunnhilde.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

ANNE FRANK ~ June 12, 1929 ~ early March 1945

Annelies Marie "Anne" Frank (12 June 1929 in Frankfurt am Main – early March 1945 in Bergen Belsen) was a Jewish girl who was born in the city of Frankfurt am Main in Weimar Germany, and who lived most of her life in or near Amsterdam, in the Netherlands. She gained international fame posthumously following the publication of her diary which documents her experiences hiding during the German occupation of the Netherlands in World War II.

Anne and her family moved to Amsterdam in 1933 after the Nazis gained power in Germany, and were trapped by the occupation of the Netherlands, which began in 1940. As persecutions against the Jewish population increased, the family went into hiding in July 1942 in hidden rooms in her father Otto Frank's office building. After two years, the group was betrayed and transported to concentration camps. Seven months after her arrest, Anne Frank died of typhus in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, within days of the death of her sister, Margot Frank.

Her father Otto, the only survivor of the group, returned to Amsterdam after the war to find that her diary had been saved, and his efforts led to its publication in 1947. It was translated from its original Dutch and first published in English in 1952 as The Diary of a Young Girl.

The diary, which was given to Anne on her 13th birthday, chronicles her life from 12 June 1942 until 1 August 1944. It has been translated into many languages, has become one of the world's most widely read books, and has been the basis for several plays and films. Anne Frank has been acknowledged for the quality of her writing, and has become one of the most renowned and most discussed victims of the Holocaust.

In 1981 after the first European tour with Chanticleer, I spent a few days in Amsterdam with Jonathan Klein. Among other things, we had the opportunity to visit the Frank hiding place. It was an extremely powerful I'll never forget.

Photo & text courtesy of

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

RICHARD STRAUSS ~ June 11, 1864 ~ September 8, 1949

Richard Georg Strauss (11 June 1864 – 8 September 1949) was a German composer of the late Romantic and early modern eras, particularly of operas, Lieder and tone poems. Strauss was also a prominent conductor. He was the consummate orchestrator!

One of my favorite operas is Strauss’ Der Rosenkavalier. His “Four Last Songs” (Vier letzte Lieder), are among the most beautiful and moving vocal/orchestral pieces ever written. I would like the third, "Beim Schlafengehen," to be sung at my funeral (someday in the far future, I trust.)

3. "Beim Schlafengehen"
"Going to Sleep" Text: Hermann Hesse

Nun der Tag mich müd' gemacht,
soll mein sehnliches Verlangenf
reundlich die gestirnte Nacht
wie ein müdes Kind empfangen.

Hände, laßt von allem Tun,
Stirn, vergiß du alles Denken.
Alle meine Sinne nun
wollen sich in Schlummer senken.

Und die Seele, unbewacht,
will in freien Flügen schweben,
um im Zauberkreis der Nacht
tief und tausendfach zu leben.

Now that I am wearied of the day,
I will let the friendly, starry night
greet all my ardent desires
like a sleepy child.

Hands, stop all your work.
Brow, forget all your thinking.
All my senses now
yearn to sink into slumber.

And my unfettered soul
wishes to soar up freely
into night's magic sphere
to live there deeply and thousandfold.

I feel privileged knowing that I shared almost six months at the start of my life with the end of his.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Death of ALEXANDER the GREAT ~ June 10, 323 B.C.E.


Alexander the Great (Greek: λέξανδρος Μέγας or Μέγας λέξανδρος, Mégas Aléxandros; 356 BC – 323 BC, also known as Alexander III of Macedon (λέξανδρος Γ' Μακεδών) was an ancient Greek King (basileus) of Macedon (336–323 BC). He was one of the most successful military commanders of all time and is presumed undefeated in battle. By the time of his death, he had conquered the Achaemenid Persian Empire, adding it to Macedon's European territories; according to some modern writers, this was most of the world as known to the ancient Greeks.

Some of my favorite novels: The Last of the Wine, Fire from Heaven, The Persian Boy, Funeral Games, are those of Alexander the Great by Mary Renault. The recent film by Oliver Stone was rather disappointing; but still worth seeing, I think. The triumphal entrance into Babylon was spectacular. Alexander, of course, died in Babylon.


Today is also my friend Maria Belo's birthday. I remember how she dressed in a clown's outfit complete with makeup and helium balloons to surprise me at work for my birthday about twenty-seven years ago. She attended my 60th birthday party two years ago April. We're overdue for tea at the Ritz-Carlton!

And I can't forget: Judy Garland was born as Frances Ethel Gumm on June 10, 1922.

Monday, June 9, 2014

NERO Commits Suicide ~ June 9, 68 C.E.


Roman Emperor Nero commits suicide, imploring his secretary to slit his throat to evade a Senate-imposed death by flogging.

Dennis and I passed by the site of his suicide as we climbed the hill in Subiaco on our way to see St. Benedicts's cave in October 2000.

Titian in the Frari (Venezia)