August 31:  Short Letter Day

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Today is the anniversary of a short letter that became the opening salvo in a chain of events that changed television history. The letter, dated August 31, 1988, was sent to NBC President Brandon Tartikoff by George Shapiro, agent for comedian Jerry Seinfeld. This brief letter of recommendation led to a meeting between Seinfeld and NBC executives, and an eventual pilot called The Seinfeld Chronicles. That pilot then became one of television’s most successful sitcoms Seinfeld running from 1990 to 1998.

With the popularity and longevity of Seinfeld, you might think that success was assured for Jerry Seinfeld, but few people know that he was dropped from an earlier sitcom Benson in 1980 after appearing in three episodes (1).

Looking back at the text of Shapiro’s letter — only three sentences long — it’s hard to believe it was the spark that set off a powder keg of comedy that dominated American TV ratings from nearly ten years.

When Seinfeld ended in 1998, it was still at the top of the ratings, and Jerry Seinfeld made it into The Guinness Book of World Records under the category “Most Money Refused” when he turned down an offer of $5 million dollars per episode to continue the show. In addition to ratings success, the sitcom also made an impact on American vernacular with catchphrases such as “Yada, Yada, Yada.”

Seinfeld’s Agent George Shapiro, who later became one of the show’s executive producers, had the gift for writing a short but strong letter of recommendation for his client (2).

Unlike an email, a short letter is likely to get the attention of your audience. If you want something done or you want an answer to a question, a short letter is a great way to guarantee a response. However, unlike the sitcom Seinfeld you can’t write a letter about nothing; you need a specific subject and purpose for your letter.

Today’s Challenge:  Short, Simple, Strong, Sincere Snail Mail

What is something that you would recommend right now, something that is overlooked or underappreciated?  Just as George Shapiro wrote a letter of recommendation for Jerry Seinfeld, your job is to write a short letter of recommendation. Your letter, however, should not recommend a person, rather it should recommend an object or an experience.  This idea comes from a weekly feature of The New York Times Magazine called “Letter of Recommendation,” where various writers recommend an object or experience that has been overlooked or underappreciated.  Past topics featured have been:  egg shakers, summer Fridays, The Oxford English Dictionary, Skiing, Fleetwood Mac’s Tusk, and alternative search engines.

Brainstorm a list of ideas.  Then, select the topic you feel most passionately about.  Your purpose is to share your passion with a general audience, telling and showing them why your object or experience is worth holding in higher esteem. (Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

1– Jerry Seinfeld Biography.  Biography.com.

http://www.biography.com/people/jerry-seinfeld-9542107.

2 – Grunwald, Lisa and Stephan J. Adler (Editors). Letters of the Century: America 1900-1999. New York: The Dial Press, 1999.

August 30:  Top 10 Day

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Today is the anniversary of the debut of The Late Show with David Letterman, which premiered on CBS on August 30, 1993, and ended on May 20, 2015. Letterman had previously spent eleven years as the host of Late Night with David Letterman, but after he was passed over as the host of The Tonight Show when Johnny Carson retired, he signed a multi-million dollar deal to move to CBS. This put him in direct competition with Jay Leno, who took over for Johnny on The Tonight Show.

Many aspects of Letterman’s show followed the basic pattern of the late night talk show genre, established and perfected by Johnny Carson. Letterman added a few new wrinkles of his own that became staples of his show and focus points for his fans.

One of Letterman’s trademarks was “found comedy” — people, places, and things found on the streets of the city that became the subject of Letterman’s ironic wit. These consist of actual items found in the newspaper, viewer mail, “stupid pet and human tricks” performed on the show, esoteric videos, and person-on-the-street interviews (1).

Letterman’s best-known feature is one that is originally “found” in the Old Testament, a list of ten — sometimes called a “Decalogue.”  This list of ten is best known as The Ten Commandments.  The Book of Exodus records Moses bringing the commandments, which are carved on two stone tablets, down from Mount Sinai and delivering them to the people of Israel.

Of course, Letterman’s Top Ten lists are meant not to deliver the law but to deliver laughs. Based on a topic from current events, each list counts down ten hilariously warped responses.

Today’s Challenge: TOP TEN TOP TENS

What would be the topic of your Top Ten list? First, brainstorm some titles of lists, such as Top Ten Reasons . . . , Top Ten Things . . ., Top Ten Ways . . . Then, when you find a title you like, complete your 10 items.

Here are ten possible top ten list titles:

  1. Top Ten Alternative Uses for a Paperclip
  2. Top Ten Ways to Save Time on Your Homework
  3. Top Ten Reasons to Attend College
  4. Top Ten Rejected Prom Themes
  5. Top Ten Songs to Have With You on a Deserted Island
  6. Top Ten Reasons to Quit Social Media
  7. Top Ten Tenets of Effective Writing
  8. Top Ten Reasons to Read a Book Rather Than Watch TV
  9. Top Ten Habits of Successful Students
  10. Top Ten Topics for a Top Ten List

(Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

1 – Late Night With David Letterman. The Museum of Broadcast Communications

http://www.museum.tv/eotv/latenightwi.htm.

August 25:  Encyclopedia Day

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On this day in A.D. 79, Pliny the Elder died, a casualty of the eruption of Mount Vesuvius.  Based on his thirty-seven volume work called Natural History, Pliny is known as the father of the encyclopedia.

Born in Italy in A.D. 23, Pliny was educated in Rome and served as a commander in the Roman army.  He is best known, however, for his prodigious efforts to catalog the knowledge of his age in his Natural History.  Using a plain, non-dogmatic style, Pliny covered cosmology, astronomy, zoology, botany, agriculture, medicine, and minerals.  Not only was the comprehensive coverage of his multi-volume work unprecedented, but also his citation of over 100 sources set the standard for the modern encyclopedia.  His work truly lived up to the meaning of the word encyclopedia, which means an “all-around education.”  The root cyclo is from the Greek for “circle” and paideia is from the Greek for “education.”

On the day of his death in 79 A.D., Pliny was serving as a fleet commander in the Bay of Naples.  This was the same day that the eruption of Mount Vesuvius destroyed the cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum.  Pliny might have survived; however, he went ashore to assist citizens in need and was overcome by toxic fumes from Vesuvius’ eruption (1).

Today we experience an encyclopedia format that has evolved from book form, to compact disk form, to online form. Whatever the form, however, it still is a format that attempts to encircle all that is known from A to Z.  One fascinating adaptation made to the encyclopedia was published in 2005 by Amy Krouse Rosenthal in her book Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life.  Departing from the traditional objective tone of general knowledge, Rosenthal adapted the encyclopedia template to reflect subjectively on the topics that have made up her life so far.  Part memoir, part autobiography, Rosenthal’s book presents her humorous, wry insights on an array of topics.

Here’s a small sample of some of the topics:

Anxious, things that make me, Birthmark, Childhood Memories, Deli Trays, Escalator, Folding Chairs, Groceries, Humbling, Infinity, Lucky (Versus Smart), Marshmallows, Napkins, Office Depot, Parking Ticket, Q-Tip, Running Into Someone, Sandwiches

The topics Rosenthal covers are diverse.  Some are abstract and others are concrete, but each of her insights, though personal, seem to touch on something universal.  For example, Rosenthal shares her personal insight on the topic “Palindrome”:  “I am overly enamored with the palindrome: Won Ton, Not Now.”

On “Pie” she says, “There are few gestures kinder than a friend baking you a pie” (2).

Today’s Challenge:  Encycloautobiography

What would be the topics from A to Z that you would include in the encyclopedia of your life?  Brainstorm a list of at least 26 topics; use a dictionary if you get stuck for ideas.  Then, take one of your topics and write at least 6 sentences about it, providing personal insights and/or personal experience to bring the topic alive and to help the reader see it in a new way. (Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

1-”Pliny the Elder”  Britannica Online Encyclopedia

http://www.britannica.com/biography/Pliny-the-Elder.

2-Rosenthal, Amy Krouse.  Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life.  New York:  Three Rivers Press, 2005.

August 19:  Post-it Note Day

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Today is the birthday of Arthur Fry, the inventor of the Post-it note.  Fry was born in Minnesota on this day in 1931.

Fry’s idea for the Post-it note was born in 1973.  At his job as a new product developer at 3M, Fry attended a presentation by a colleague named Spencer Silver.  Silver’s talk was on a weak adhesive he had developed, a seemingly useless invention — a glue that didn’t stick.

Later when Fry was singing in his church choir, he had the epiphany that brought the Post-it note to life.  To mark the pages of his hymnbook, Fry used slips of paper.  When he opened the hymnbook to a marked page and the bookmark fell out, he got his million-dollar idea.  Applying some of Silver’s adhesive to the bookmark, Fry discovered that not only did the bookmark stay in place, it also could be removed without damaging the pages of the hymnal.

Later, when he wrote some notes to his boss on his new invention, Fry realized it had more uses than just as a bookmark.

Post-it notes went on the market for the first time in 1980, and today Post-it notes and Post-it related products are sold in over 100 countries worldwide (1).

Today’s Challenge:  Post-it Pitch

What are some possible uses for a Post-it note?  Brainstorm as many ideas as you can, trying for a wide range of ideas.  Follow Fry’s example by thinking out of the box. Where others saw just a glue that wouldn’t stick, Fry saw useful innovation.  After you have generated at least twenty ideas, select your best single idea and write your pitch on one or more Post-it notes. If you’re working with others, have a contest to see which ideas are the best. (Common Core Writing 1 – Argument)

1- Horne, Richard and Tracey Turner.  101 Things You Wish You’d Invented …and Some You Wish No One Had.  New York:  Walker & Company, 2008.

 

August 8:  Dollar and Cents Day

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Today is the anniversary of the Continental Congress’ establishment of the monetary system of the United States. The year was 1786, and the ordinance called for U.S. coins with the following names: mill, cent, dime, dollar, and eagle.

According to Bill Bryson in Made in America, bankers and businessmen wished to maintain the English system based on pounds and shillings, but Thomas Jefferson devised a distinctly new system based on dollars and cents.

The name dollar comes from a town in Bohemia called Joachimstal. A coin made there in the 1500s, the Joachimstaler, spread throughout Europe evolving from the taler, to the thaler, to the daler, and finally into the dollar.

The name dime comes from the French dixieme, which means tenth. It was originally spelled disme and pronounced as deem.

The name cent comes from the Latin centum which means one hundred. The unofficial name penny comes from the Latin term pannus, which means “a piece of cloth”; at one time these pieces of cloth were used for money.

The name mill comes from the Latin millesimus which means thousandth. A mill would have represented 1/1000 of a dollar; however, the federal government never minted the mill coin. The lowest denomination of coin ever created was a 1/2 cent piece.

The eagle was a $10 coin.

The missing coin from the 1786 ordinance, common today, is the denomination that represents 1/20 of a dollar: the nickel, named for the metal from which is was made (nickels never were made of wood) (1).

Dollars and cents are certainly important in America, so important that many expressions contain references to money, such as fast buck, more bang for the buck, and pass the buck. The term buck has been slang for dollar since the mid-1800s, according to The American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms.

See if you can find the English idioms that fit in the sentences below; they all have to do with dollars, dimes, or cents. The literal definition of each expression is also given as a clue.

  1. A virtual certainty: It’s _____ _____ _____ that the team will make the playoffs.
  2. To be absolutely sure: You can _____ _____ _____ _____ that he will be at the party.
  3. Unexpected good fortune. I didn’t think I would get a $500 rebate on my new car. When I got the check, it was _____ _____ _____.
  4. Stingy about small expenditures and extravagant with large ones. Dean clips all the coupons for supermarket bargains but insists on going to the best restaurants; he’s ______ _____ _____ _____ _____.
  5. So plentiful as to be valueless. Don’t bother to buy one of these — they’re a _____ _____ _____.
  6. To inform on or betray someone. No one can cheat in this class — someone’s bound to _____ _____ _____ and tell the teacher.
  7. Take action and end delay. It’s time this administration _____ _____ _____ _____ and came up with a viable budget (2)

Today’s Challenge: Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is

What is a story that you could tell that relates to the theme “money”?  Below are ten idioms containing the word money. Using a money-related idiom as your title and as a spark for your memory or your imagination, tell a money-related anecdote. (Common Core Writing 3 – Narrative)

Money is no object, Money talks, Hush money, A run for your money, Time is money, A fool and his money are soon parted, Money to burn, Pocket money, Easy money, Not for love or money (Common Core Writing 3 – Narrative)

Quotation of the Day: There’s no money in poetry, but then there’s no poetry in money, either. -Robert Graves

Answers: 1. dollars to doughnuts 2. bet your bottom dollar 3. pennies from heaven 4. penny wise and pound foolish 5. dime a dozen 6. drop a dime 7. got off the dime

1 – Bryson, Bill. Made in America: An Informal History of the English Language in the United States. New York: Perennial, 1994.

2 – Ammer, Christine. The American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1997.

July 8:  Credo Day

On this day in 1941, John D. Rockefeller, Jr. (1874-1960) gave a radio speech in which he presented ten principles that, according to him, “point the way to usefulness and happiness in life, to courage and peace in death.”  

John D. Rockefeller 1885.jpgRockefeller was the only son of oil baron John D. Rockefeller.  Unlike his father, he became better known for the money he gave away than for the money he made.  His philanthropy included the establishment of the Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research and the restoration of Colonial Williamsburg.  John’s son Nelson Rockefeller served as both the governor of New York and the 41st Vice President of the United States under President Gerald Ford (1).

Rockefeller’s 1941 speech is written as a credo, Latin for “I believe.”  As you read each of his ten statements of personal belief below, notice how he organizes each one in parallel fashion, using clear and concise language:

-I believe in the supreme worth of the individual and in his right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

-I believe that every right implies a responsibility; every opportunity, an obligation; every possession, a duty.

-I believe that the law was made for man and not man for the law; that government is the servant of the people and not their master.

-I believe in the dignity of labor, whether with head or hand; that the world owes no man a living but that it owes every man an opportunity to make a living.

-I believe that thrift is essential to well ordered living and that economy is a prime requisite of a sound financial structure, whether in government, business or personal affairs.

-I believe that truth and justice are fundamental to an enduring social order.

-I believe in the sacredness of a promise, that a man’s word should be as good as his bond; that character—not wealth or power or position—is of supreme worth.

-I believe that the rendering of useful service is the common duty of mankind and that only in the purifying fire of sacrifice is the dross of selfishness consumed and the greatness of the human soul set free.

-I believe in an all-wise and all-loving God, named by whatever name, and that the individual’s highest fulfillment, greatest happiness, and widest usefulness are to be found in living in harmony with His will.

-I believe that love is the greatest thing in the world; that it alone can overcome hate; that right can and will triumph over might.

Rockefeller’s credo is etched in granite at the entrance to the skating rink at Rockefeller Center in New York City (See September 7:  Words Chiseled in Granite Day).

Today’s Challenge:  Your PSB
What are some examples of the personal beliefs you live by? You have probably heard of a Public Service Announcement or PSA, but have you ever heard of a PSB?  A PSB is a Personal Statement of Beliefs, also known as a credo.  Crafting your own credo and periodically revising it is a nice way to identify and practice the beliefs that you feel are essential to live life to its fullest.  The writer Robert Fulghum, for example, would sit down each spring and write and revise his credo (See October 30: All I Really Need to Know I Learned From Kindergarten Day).  Write your own PSB with at least three statements.  Begin each one with “I believe . . .”  As you write and revise, ask yourself how you would explain and justify the importance of each of your statements. (Common Core Writing 1 – Argument)

Quotation of the Day:  I believe that imagination is stronger than knowledge. That myth is more potent than history. That dreams are more powerful than facts. That hope always triumphs over experience. That laughter is the only cure for grief. And I believe that love is stronger than death. –Robert Fulghum

1- Safire, William.  Lend Me Your Ears:  Great Speeches in History.  New York:  W.W. Norton & Company, 1997.

 

 

July 6: Lake Wobegon Day

Today is the anniversary of the first broadcast of the radio show the Prairie Home Companion. The show was conceived by Garrison Keillor, who hosted the variety show modeled after the Grand Ole Opry since its premier in 1974. Keillor’s show was broadcast on over 580 public radio stations until its final broadcast on July 3, 2016.

In addition to music and commercials for imaginary products, each week’s show featured a monologue by Keillor about his mythical hometown Lake Wobegon, Minnesota. Each monologue began the same: “It’s been a quiet week in Lake Wobegon,” but the stories that Keillor told about the Lake Wobegon residents were always different. Keillor’s colorful descriptions, humor, and realistic insights into the human condition brought his characters to life and brought listeners back each week.

In addition to using the same opening, Keillor also used a stock concluding line each week for his monologue: “That’s the news for Lake Wobegon, where all the women are strong, all the men are good-looking, and all the children are above-average.”

It’s the last part of Keillor’s concluding line, “all the children are above-average,” that has captured the imagination of sociologists who have adopted Keillor’s fictional town in what they call the Lake Wobegon Effect. The Lake Wobegon Effect is the tendency for groups of people to overestimate their achievements and competence in relation to other groups.

The term entered the lexicon in 1987 when Dr. John Cannel published a study that revealed that every state claimed that their students’ test scores were above the national average. This humorous and absurd finding became publicized as the Lake Wobegon Effect. The fictional town in Minnesota became a metaphor of a nationwide phenomenon.

Often we think of metaphor as the exclusive tool of poets. The fact is, however, every good communicator understands and uses metaphor to connect the known to the unknown. Scientists, business people, psychologists, sociologists, and doctors all turn to metaphor to communicate their ideas, theories, and discoveries.

This is done so frequently that there is an entire book of these metaphors called The Babinski Reflex. The author, Phillip Goldberg, calls them metaffects:

“. . . a recognized effect, law, or principle whose official meaning can be transferred to another context. The Babinski Reflex, for example, is a term describing an automatic response in the foot of an infant, thought to be a vestige of our primate ancestry. As such, it resonates metaphorically with certain forms of adult behavior that might be considered primitive or infantile . . . .” (1).

Today’s Challenge: Cause for the Effect
What is an example of an effect that happens frequently enough to be named? Research one of the effects below or create your own based on your experience and/or observation.  Write a definition of the effect as well as some background details on its cause and when, where, and why it occurs.

Cocktail Party Effect

Eureka Effect

Butterfly Effect

The False Consensus Effect

Hawthorne Effect

Boomerang Effect

Bandwagon Effect

Barnum Effect

Dunning–Kruger Effect

Pygmalion Effect

(Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

Quotation of the Day: One reads books in order to gain the privilege of living more than one life. People who don’t read are trapped in a mine shaft, even if they think the sun is shining.  –Garrison Keillor

1 – Goldberg, Phillip. The Babinski Reflex: and 70 Other Useful and Amusing Metaphors from Science, Psychology, Business, Sports … and Everyday Life. Los Angeles: Jeremy P. Tarcher, Inc., 1990.

July 4: Twenty-Seven Reasons Day

Today we celebrate the Declaration of Independence of 1776. Thomas Jefferson, only 33 years old at the time, was chosen to write a draft of the Declaration. One of the masterworks of both literary and political prose, the Declaration opens with a 71-word sentence that although long is clearly and precisely worded:

When in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation (1).

United States Declaration of Independence.jpgAlthough the preamble is Jefferson’s, a comparison of his drafts shows that he was influenced by others like English philosopher John Locke and an earlier Declaration of Rights written by the Virginian George Mason. Another clear influence was Thomas Paine, whose pamphlet Common Sense, published in January 1776, used plain language to ignite revolutionary fervor in the colonists. In fact, Paine gave us the modern sense of the word “revolution” as change, as opposed to describing the movements of the planets.

In addition to being influenced by others, Jefferson got help with revisions. His document underwent 40 changes and 630 deleted words as drafts were presented to the Committee of Five and Congress. The date on the Declaration of Independence reads July 4, 1776, but a more accurate date is probably July 2nd when the actual proposal to declare independence was ratified. According to Bill Bryson in Made in America: An Informal History of the English Language in the United States, only two of the 57 signers of the Declaration did so on July 4th, Charles Thomson and John Hancock. Hancock’s large signature later became synonymous with signing your name.

The official signing did not take place until August 2nd and the names of the signers, for fear of retaliation, were not released until January 1777. Signing such a document was no small act. It was considered treason, and according to Bryson: “The penalty for treason was to be hanged, cut down while still alive, disemboweled and forced to watch your organs burned before your eyes, then beheaded and quartered” (2).

Stories of the Declaration of Independence being read in Philadelphia on July 4th to the ringing of the Liberty Bell are a myth since the first public reading was on July 8th, and “there is no record of any bells being rung. Indeed, though the Liberty Bell was there, it was not so called until 1847 . . . . “(2).

One year later, however, on July 4, 1777 there is a record of celebrations and parades on the first anniversary of independence. It is also on this date that a new word appeared: fireworks, which previously had been called rockets.

At the core of the Declaration is a list of 27 specific grievances that provide the rationale for revolution. American school children learn mainly about “taxation without representation” (#17), but as you can see by the parallel list below, American colonists had many more reasons to be unhappy with the British monarchy:

-He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.
-He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.
-He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.
-He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.
-He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.
-He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected; whereby the Legislative powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.
-He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.
-He has obstructed the Administration of Justice, by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary powers.
-He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone, for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.
-He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harrass our people, and eat out their substance.
-He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.
-He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil power.
-He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:
-For Quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:
-For protecting them, by a mock Trial, from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:
-For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:
-For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:
-For depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of Trial by Jury:
-For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences
-For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies:
-For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws, and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:
-For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.
-He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.
-He has plundered our seas, ravaged our Coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.
-He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.
-He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.
-He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.

Today’s Challenge: 27 Reasons to Celebrate
What is something that you love so much that you could write 27 reasons to celebrate it? Select a person, place, or thing you feel passionate about and list your 27 reasons to celebrate it. For example, today might be a day to good day to write “Twenty-seven Reasons to Celebrate American Independence.” (Common Core Writing 1 – Argument)

Quotation of the Day: The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants. It is its natural manure. –Thomas Jefferson

1 – Declaration of Independence. http://www.archives.gov/national-archives-experience/charters/declaration_transcript.html

2 – Bryson, Bill. Made in America: An Informal History of the English Language in the United States. New York: William Morrow, 1995.

June 10:  Historic Anecdote Day

On this day in 323 BC, an ancient king and an ancient philosopher died.

The king was Alexander the Great, the Macedonian general who conquered most of the ancient world.  As a youth, Alexander was tutored by the philosopher Aristotle, and his favorite author was Homer. Legend says that he slept with a copy of the Iliad and a dagger under his pillow.  After earning his first military victory at the age 18, Alexander fought for the next 15 years with an undefeated record in battle.  When Alexander realized there were no more worlds to conquer, he wept.

The ancient philosopher was Diogenes the Cynic.  Diogenes believed in living a life free of conventions and constraints.  He eschewed possessions and famously made his home in a large discarded clay jar.  He once owned a wooden cup, but discarded one day when he witnessed a young boy using his cupped bare hands to drink water.  Diogenes was known to walk through the marketplace in the middle of the day carrying a lighted lamp. When asked why he carried the lamp and inspected the faces of those he met, Diogenes answered, “I am trying to find a man.”

Although these two men died in separate parts of the world — Alexander in Babylon and Diogenes in Corinth — the two men are connected in cultural memory through one of history’s best-known anecdotes.

The story goes that the young Alexander once made a visit to Diogenes’ hometown of Corinth.  Everyone flocked to catch a glimpse of the great leader, to hear him speak, and to gain his favor — everyone that is but Diogenes.  Since Diogenes did not come to see him, Alexander determined to make a personal visit to see the philosopher. Accompanied by a throng of admirers, Alexander approached Diogenes’ home, the large barrel-shaped jar.  Diogenes did not greet the young conqueror; in fact, he didn’t even stand. Instead, he simply sat up on one elbow. After a short period of awkward silence, Alexander asked: “Diogenes, is there anything I can do for you?”

“Yes,” Diogenes replied, “Stand to one side.  You’re blocking the sunlight.”

The crowd was hushed and amazed at Diogenes’ insolence, but Alexander was unphased.  He simply turned away and said quietly, “If I were not Alexander, I should be Diogenes.”

More than one ancient biographer wrote that Alexander and Diogenes died on the same day, June 10, 323 BC.  The exact cause of the two men’s deaths is not exactly clear. Although it might be expected that the warrior Alexander died in battle, no such report exists.  Instead accounts of his death conflict. Some say he died of poisoning, others of malaria or typhoid fever. Only 32 years of age at his death, Alexander’s body was submerged in a vat of honey to stave off decay.

As for the death of Diogenes, there are also conflicting accounts.  One account claims he simply held his breath, another claims he became ill after eating raw octopus, and still another claim he died of infection from a dog bite.

This last possibility is especially ironic, considering that Diogenes’ creed of Cynicism means “doggishness.”  In his History of Cynicism, the scholar R. Dudley explains why the Cynics embraced a dog’s life:

There are four reasons why the Cynics are so named. First because of the indifference of their way of life, for they make a cult of indifference and, like dogs, eat and make love in public, go barefoot, and sleep in tubs and at crossroads. The second reason is that the dog is a shameless animal, and they make a cult of shamelessness, not as being beneath modesty, but as superior to it. The third reason is that the dog is a good guard, and they guard the tenets of their philosophy. The fourth reason is that the dog is a discriminating animal which can distinguish between its friends and enemies. So do they recognize as friends those who are suited to philosophy, and receive them kindly, while those unfitted they drive away, like dogs, by barking at them. (2)

Today’s Challenge:  From History to Story

Who are some great historic figures you would like to know more about?  What are some specific stories that include one or more of these individuals?  Brainstorm a list of historic figures who are of interest to you.  Do a bit of research to discover an anecdote about one of them. Before you begin writing, however, note the difference between the words “historical” and “historic.”  “Historical” refers to anything or anyone from the past; “historic,” in contrast, refers to something or someone important from the past. Therefore, when you do your research on a “historic anecdote” focus on important or famous people from the past.  Tell the story of a single specific incident using your own words. (Common Core Writing 3 – Narrative)

Quotation of the Day:  Alexander died, Alexander was buried, Alexander returneth to dust, the dust is earth, of earth we make loam—and why of that loam, whereto he was converted, might they not stop a beer barrel?  -Hamlet in William Shakespeare’s Hamlet, the Tragedy of the Prince of Denmark

1-Highet, Gilbert.  “Diogenes And Alexander”

2-Dudley, R. A History of Cynicism.  Cambridge University Press, 1937.

 

June 8:  Bill of Rights Day

On this day in 1789, a draft of the Bill of Rights was presented to the First Federal Congress. The United States Constitution had been ratified on September 17, 1787. It established the organization of the central government and the elaborate system of checks and balances on the power of the three branches. What was not included in the Constitution at this time, however, was how the powers of the central government should be balanced against the rights and liberty of the people.

Bill of Rights Pg1of1 AC.jpgBeginning with the Magna Carta, signed by King John on June 15, 1215, there is a long history of attempts to balance the power of the state or the Crown against the power of the individual. The Bill of Rights is a high water mark in this history.

Credit for championing the draft of the Bill of Rights goes to James Madison, who would later become the fourth President of the United States. Madison had been the major architect of the document that was written at the 1787 Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, and in 1789 he demonstrated the same breadth of knowledge and the same skill in forming compromises as he argued for the Bill of Rights.

Madison’s first draft of 17 amendments was approved by the House of Representatives, but 5 of the amendments were later shot down by the Senate. The state legislatures would later remove two more amendments. The first 10 amendments to the U.S. Constitution known as the Bill of Rights were finally adopted on December 15, 1791.

Today’s Challenge: Know Your Rights

What are the 10 amendments that make up the Bill of Rights, and what makes those rights so important?  Today there are a total of 27 amendments to the United States Constitution, but it’s the first ten that are known as the Bill of Rights. Read each of the 10 amendments below.  Then, research one of the amendments that you think is particularly important.  Write an explanation of what this right means and why you feel is so important.

Amendment I – Freedom of Religion, Speech, Press, Assembly, and Petition

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

Amendment II – Right to Bear Arms

A well-regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.

Amendment III – Quartering of Soldiers

No soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law.

Amendment IV – Search and Seizure

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

Amendment V – Right of the Accused

No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a grand jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the militia, when in actual service in time of war or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.

Amendment VI – Requirements for Jury Trial

In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the state and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the assistance of counsel for his defense.

Amendment VII – Rules of Common Law

In suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved, and no fact tried by a jury, shall be otherwise reexamined in any court of the United States, than according to the rules of the common law.

Amendment VIII – Limits on Criminal Punishments

Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.

Amendment IX – Rights Kept by the People

The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.

Amendment X – Lawsuits Against a State

The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people.  

(Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

Quotation of the Day: If we can’t think for ourselves, if we’re unwilling to question authority, then we’re just putty in the hands of those in power. But if the citizens are educated and form their own opinions, then those in power work for us. In every country, we should be teaching our children the scientific method and the reasons for a Bill of Rights. With it comes a certain decency, humility and community spirit. In the demon-haunted world that we inhabit by virtue of being human, this may be all that stands between us and the enveloping darkness. -Carl Sagan

1- The National Archives: http://www.archives.gov/national-archives-experience/charters/bill_of_rights.html