September 15:  Opposing Argument Day

On this date in 1982, USA Today, the American daily newspaper, was first published.  Besides the fact that it was launched to be the newspaper for the entire nation — not just one city — several other characteristics made it unique.  Its news stories were written to be short and easy-to-read.  Each section featured extensive use of color, including an eye-catching infographic in the lower left-hand corner called a “Snapshot.”  Critics derided the paper, dubbing it “McPaper.”  Today, however, USA Today is still published five days a week and has one of the widest circulations of any newspaper in the United States.

USA Today 2012logo.svgAnother unique feature pioneered by USA Today is its “Our View”/”Opposing View” editorials.  In addition to presenting the USA Today Editorial Board’s position on an issue (“Our View”), the paper presents an additional editorial on the same issue that argues an alternative point of view written by a guest writer and expert in the field.  One example of this is on the issue of Testing for U.S. Citizenship.  The Our View editorial headline read, “Make Schoolkids Pass the Same Test As New Citizens,” while the “Opposing View” headline read, “Good Citizenship Transcends a Test.”

Today’s Challenge:  
What are the opposing arguments on an issue that you care about?  One of the best ways to truly understand an issue is to look at it from the opposing point of view and consider the arguments made from the other side.  Doing this will help you see the issue from a broader perspective and will help you avoid narrow mindedness or groupthink.  Looking at contrary arguments will also help you solidify your own thinking, equipping you to anticipate objections, counter with strong rebuttals, and even concede certain arguments if necessary.  This does not come naturally to most people, but if you practice, it will help you craft arguments that are more forceful, more cogent, and more credible.  

Write an editorial that summaries the opposing argument on an issue you care about.  Begin by thinking about your actual position on the issue; then, anticipate the strongest objections to your argument that would be made by the opposing side.  Make a real effort to climb into the shoes of your opposition and to argue the issue fairly and respectfully from that point of view.  (Common Core Writing 1 – Argument)

Quotation of the Day:  If you can learn a simple trick, Scout, you’ll get along a lot better with all kinds of folks. You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view … until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.  -Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird

 

September 14: Anthem Day

On this day, “by the dawn’s light,” Francis Scott Key wrote the lyrics to the United States’ national anthem “The Star-Spangled Banner.”  The inspiration for Key’s great words was the British fleet’s shelling of Fort McHenry, which guarded the harbor of Baltimore, Maryland.  The year was 1814, and the war was the War of 1812.  Key watched the bombardment from an odd perspective.  An American lawyer, Key had boarded a British ship prior to the battle to negotiate the release of another American being held by the British.  Once on the ship, Key was detained by the British until the battle ended the next morning.  Key’s vantage point was from the enemy’s side, where the British fleet aimed its guns at the flag flying over the American fort, a flag that at that time had 15 stars and 15 stripes.

Francis Scott Key by Joseph Wood c1825.jpgA few days after Key wrote his poem, it was published in American newspapers.  Soon people began singing the poem’s words to the tune of an English drinking song, “To Anacreon in Heaven.”  The song did not become the national anthem immediately, however.  More than one hundred years later, in 1931, the U.S. Congress made it the official anthem.

Key’s words so familiar that we seldom examine the remarkable picture he illuminates with his imagery.  Read them again paying special attention to how he evokes both pictures and sounds:

O say can you see by the dawn’s early light,

What so proudly we hailed at the twilight’s last gleaming,

Whose broad stripes and bright stars through the perilous fight,

O’er the ramparts we watched, were so gallantly streaming?

And the rockets’ red glare, the bombs bursting in air,

Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there;

O say does that star-spangled banner yet wave,

O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?

Today’s Challenge:  An A+ Alternative Anthem
An anthem is a rousing, reverential song of devotion or loyalty to a group, a school, or a nation.  While the “Star-Spangled Banner” is certainly reverential, many have criticized it as a song that is too difficult to sing. What would you argue would be a good alternative national anthem?  Identify the specific song, its composer, and your specific reasoning for making this song the alternative national anthem. (Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

Quote of the Day:  
Now it catches the gleam of the morning’s first beam,
In full glory reflected, now shines on the stream;
‘Tis the Star-Spangled Banner! Oh long may it wave

-Words from the 2nd stanza of “The Star-Spangled Banner”

1-Bennet, William and John Cribb.  The American Patriot’s Almanac. New York:  Thomas Nelson, 2008: 350.

 

 

September 13:  Literary Hoax Day

On this day in 1956, the novel I, Libertine was published.  What makes this novel such a literary oddity is that it made the New York Times bestseller list before a single word of it had been written.

Frewing.jpgThe story begins with the writer Jean Shepherd, best known as the narrator and co-writer of the film A Christmas Story.  In 1956 Shepherd hosted a late-night talk radio show in New York City.  Annoyed that bestseller lists were being influenced not just by book sales but also by the number of requests for a book at bookstores, Shepherd hatched one of the great literary hoaxes in history. Shepherd encourages his radio listeners to visit their local bookstores and request a book that did not exist, a novel whose title and author were totally fabricated:   I, Libertine by Frederick R. Ewing.

The plot thickened once the nonexistent book hit the bestseller list.  With the imaginary book now in demand, publisher Ian Ballantine met with Shepherd and novelist Theodore Sturgeon.  Sturgeon was hired to write the novel based on the rough plot outline provided by Shepherd, and on this date the fabricated fictional work became fact.

Today’s Challenge:  Fabricated First Lines
What would be the opening line of your bestselling novel?  Try your own hand at fabricated fiction.  Grab a novel that you haven’t read.  Look at the title, and then compose a captivating first sentence.  Next, grab a friend.  Read your friend your sentence along with the actual opening sentence (in no particular order) to see if your friend can tell which is the actual opening sentence.  Your goal is to pass your prose off as professional!

Quote of the Day:  My own luck has been curious all my literary life; I never could tell a lie that anyone would doubt, nor a truth that anybody would believe.  –Mark Twain

1-http://www.theawl.com/2013/02/the-man-behind-the-brilliant-media-hoax-of-i-libertine

 

September 12:  Croissants and Cappuccino Day

On this date in 1683 a vast Ottoman army of 250,000 troops was defeated in its attempt to take Vienna, Austria.  The Austrian army was assisted by Polish forces, led by King John Sobieski, who came at the request of Pope Alexander VIII.  After a battle that lasted fifteen hours, the Turks retreated, leaving behind weapons, stores of food, and thousands of their dead.  After his victory, the Polish King sent a dispatch to the Pope that read,  “I came, I saw, God conquered.”

Battle of Vienna 1683 11.PNGTo celebrate the victory, Vienna’s bakers cooked up a new culinary creation, a crescent shaped roll that mimicked the crescent moon on the Turkish flag. Later, in 1770, the new roll was introduced to France when Marie Antoinette, originally of Austria, married the future Louis XVI.  Only then did the roll become the croissant, French for crescent.

A second culinary creation resulted from the large quantities of coffee left behind by the Turkish army as they fled.  Finding the coffee bitter, the Christian soldiers added milk and honey to make it more palatable.  For the name of this new concoction, they turned to a Capuchin monk named Marco d’Aviano, who had been sent by the Pope as emissary to assist the commanders of the Christian army.  The tasty drink was named Cappuccino in honor of friar Marco d’Aviano’s order, Capuchin (1).

Today’s Challenge:  Classic Culinary Combos
What food combination would you argue is most worth celebrating?  Make your case for what makes your menu items so great and so complementary, and include some details from research on the history of the menu item.  Go beyond the obvious to give your reader some details about the food that goes beyond common knowledge.  Instead of baloney, serve up the best caviar to your audience. (Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

Quotation of the Day:  Someone who drank too much coffee decided on the spelling of the word Coffee. -Jim Gaffigan

 

1- Marsh, W.B. and Bruce Carrick.  365:  Your Date with History.  Cambridge, UK:  Totem Books, 2004.

September 11:   Motivational Movie Monologue Day

On this date in the year 1297, the Scottish defeated the English in The Battle of Stirling Bridge.  Heavily outnumbered by English infantry and cavalry, the Scottish army led by William Wallace and Andrew de Moray nevertheless won the battle (1).

In the film Braveheart, William Wallace, portrayed by Mel Gibson, gives a rousing speech to the Scottish troops.  With the odds clearly against them, the Scottish troops are at first reluctant to fight.  After listening to Wallace’s succinct, clear, and forceful speech, however, they storm into battle:

Fight and you may die. Run and you will live at least a while. And dying in your bed many years from now, would you be willing to trade all the days from this day to that for one chance, just one chance, to come back here as young men and tell our enemies that they may take our lives but they will never take our freedom!

Although the film is based on actual historical events surrounding the battle, the speech itself is fictional.  

Today’s Challenge:  Get Them Moving with a Moving Monologue
How do you motivate people to do something they may not want to do?  Write your own rousing fictional monologue based on a character who is in a situation where he or she needs to motivate an audience to act.  Begin by brainstorming some speakers and some situations, such as a son trying to persuade his father to raise his allowance, a door to door salesperson trying to persuade a homeowner to buy a security system, or a teacher trying to persuade her students to do their homework.  Then, write your speech from the point of view of the speaker you have chose, combining logic and passion to move the audience to action. (Common Core Writing 1 – Argument)

Quote of the Day:  You don’t get to choose how you’re going to die.  Or when. You can only decide how you’re going to live.  Now.  -Joan Baez

1- http://militaryhistory.about.com/od/battleswars12011400/p/stirlingbridge.htm

September 10:  Notorious Eponym Day

On this day in 1945, Vidkun Quisling was convicted of high treason for his collaboration with the Germans during during World War II.  A Norwegian politician, Quisling met with Hitler in April 1940, just prior to the Nazi invasion of Norway, and he was appointed Minister-President during the Nazi occupation of Norway.  After the unconditional surrender of Germany in May 1945, Quisling was arrested and put on trial for his treasonist activities during the war and for his collaboration with the Nazis.  After his conviction, he was executed by firing squad on October 24, 1945.  Since that time his name has been synonymous with anyone who collaborates with the enemy (1).

A black and white photographic portrait of a man aged around thirty, looking slightly to his left. He is dressed in a dark suit and tie; his hair is neatly combed into a parting.The word quisling is a classic example of an eponym, a word derived from a real or imaginary person. For example, the word shrapnel evolved from Henry Shrapnel, an English artillery officer who developed an exploding shell that sent out bits of metal. Most often the capitalized proper noun that refers to the specific person becomes lowercase as it is transformed into a general noun, adjective, or verb.

Today’s Challenge:  Name Hall of Shame
Who is a person so notorious that his or her name is synonymous with despicable behavior?  Most eponyms have fairly positive, or at least neutral, connotations, such as sandwich, sideburns, and sequoia.  The list of eponyms below, however, have entered the language with decidedly negative connotations.  Select one, and do a bit of etymological research to see if you can discover the person and the story behind the word. Write a brief speech that defines the word and explains why it deserves a spot in the Name Hall of Shame. (Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

bowdlerize

chauvinism

draconian

gerrymander

lynch

narcissism

procrustean

Quotation of the Day:  There are still people in my party who believe in consensus politics.  I regard them as Quislings, as traitors.  –Margaret Thatcher

 

1- http://www.historyinanhour.com/2010/10/24/vidkun-quisling-the-norwegian-nazi/