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

 

June 7:  Quiz Day

On this day in 1955, the quiz show the $64,000 Question premiered on CBS. Today we take game shows for granted, but in the early days of television these “quiz shows” were high stakes dramas that mesmerized the television audience and posted record ratings. The $64,000 Question spawned a number of successful imitators: The Big Surprise, Dotto, Tic Tac Dough, and Twenty One.

QuizShowPoster.jpgThe success of the quiz shows ended, however, in 1958 when a scandal surfaced where evidence showed that the results of the shows were rigged. As a result, the quiz show craze died, and the networks stopped airing game shows (1). Game shows did not gain favor with the public again until the 1960s when shows like Jeopardy began to attract viewers (See March 20: Answer in the Form of a Question Day). In fact, it was not until the ’60s that the term game show replaced quiz show.

It is interesting that tracking down the history of the word quiz has left lexicographers somewhat quizzical.

One story involves James Daly, a theater manager in Dublin. In 1791, Daly supposedly made a bet with a friend, saying he could introduce a new word into the language within a single day. He then created the nonce (or nonsense) word quiz and paid people to write the word in chalk on walls throughout the city. By the end of the day, the word was on everyone’s lips (2).

Although this is a good story, it probably is not true. Instead, quiz is probably just a clipped version of the word inquisitive, an adjective meaning “unduly curious and inquiring.”

Today’s Challenge:  Pop Goes the Quiz Questions

What are some interesting facts that you have learned from previous Word Days’ entries?  For Quiz Day, the 7th of June, make a seven-question quiz made up of seven separate questions based on seven separate Word Days’ entries.  Make sure to record the answers to each of your questions. (Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

Quotation of the Day:  There is always a place I can take someone’s curiosity and land where they end up enlightened when we’re done. That’s my challenge as an educator. No one is dumb who is curious. The people who don’t ask questions remain clueless throughout their lives. –Neil deGrasse Tyson

1- The Museum of Broadcast Communications:

http://www.museum.tv/archives/etv/S/htmlS/$64000quest/$64000quest.htm

2- Manswer, Martin. The Guinness Book of Words (2nd Edition). Middlesex: Guinness Publishing Ltd., 1988.

 

May 30:  Memorial and Memoir Day

Today is the anniversary of the celebration of the first Memorial Day in 1868.  

After the Civil War ended in 1865, many communities in the North and the South began holding tributes to fallen soldiers.  These commemorations, which were originally called Decoration Day, were held in the spring when flowers were readily available for the decoration of graves.

Graves at Arlington on Memorial Day.JPGOn May 5, 1868, American General John Logan, national commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, a Civil War veterans group, issued General Order Number 11, which said:

The 30th day of May, 1868, is designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village, and hamlet church-yard in the land.

Decoration Day gradually evolved to be called Memorial Day. And after World War I, it became a day to honor not just fallen Civil War soldiers, but all war dead. Not until 1971 did Memorial Day become an official federal holiday.  In that year, the Uniform Monday Holiday Act established Memorial Day as the last Monday in May, which created a three-day weekend for federal workers (1).

While Memorial Day is a day to remember those who gave their lives in past wars, it can also be a day to remember the power we all have to revisit the past through the genre of memoir.  In memoir, we are given the ability to time travel and vicariously take part in the intimate experiences and thoughts of writers who have documented the significant moments of their lives.

There is no greater example of this than in Marcel Proust’s The Remembrance of Things Past, a seven-volume memoir published over a period of fourteen years (1913-1927). Proust’s flood of memories is launched in a single remarkable moment, as he is sitting drinking a cup of herbal tea with a madeleine:  

And as soon as I had recognised the taste of the piece of madeleine soaked in her decoction of lime-blossom which my aunt used to give me (although I did not yet know and must long postpone the discovery of why this memory made me so happy) immediately the old grey house upon the street, where her room was, rose up like a stage set to attach itself to the little pavilion opening on to the garden which had been built out behind it for my parents (the isolated segment which until that moment had been all that I could see); and with the house the town, from morning to night and in all weathers, the square where I used to be sent before lunch, the streets along which I used to run errands, the country roads we took when it was fine.

Through his sense of taste, Proust’s memory is magically unlocked, and he is involuntarily transported in an instant to a vivid remembrance of his past.

Proust’s work is just one example of many brilliant memoirs that allow us to see, smell, taste, feel, and hear what others have experienced in their past.

Here are a few examples:

Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt

Black Like Me by John Howard Griffin

Boy by Roald Dahl

Confessions by Augustine

The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank

Diary by Samuel Pepys

Down and Out in Paris and London by George Orwell

My Left Foot by Christy Brown

Stop Time by Frank Conroy

The Story of My Life  by Hellen Keller

Reading Lolita in Tehran:  A Memoir in Books by Azar Nafisi

This Boy’s Life: A Memoir by Tobias Wolff

On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King

Walden by Henry David Thoreau

Today’s Challenge:  Past Is Prologue

What are some of the most significant moments from your past that are vivid enough that you could describe them in detail?  Brainstorm some specific moments from your life that you remember vividly.  Select one moment and write about it, describing it as vividly as possible with sensory imagery.  Also, reflect on why the incident remains meaningful to you today and why it lingers in your memory. (Common Core Writing 3 – Narrative)

Quotation of the Day:  Own only what you can always carry with you: know languages, know countries, know people. Let your memory be your travel bag. –Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

1-http://www.history.com/topics/holidays/memorial-day-history

May 13: Velcro Day

Today is the anniversary of a registered trademark that gave the world an alternative to zippers and buttons: Velcro.

One man’s annoyance can be another man’s eureka. One day, when Swiss inventor George de Mestral returned with his dog from a walk, he noticed that he and his dog were covered with cockleburrs. Instead of being annoyed, he studied the burrs under a microscope where he noted their hook-like shape.

Engineering artificial fasteners that replicated the ones he found in nature took a few years, but Mestral eventually succeeded in creating his easy to use hook and loop fastener. He registered his invention in 1958. For the name of his product, he blended two French terms: “vel” from velvet and “cro” from crochet (little hook).

Logo velcro.pngToday Velcro Industries is a successful international company, but like other successful companies, Velcro is challenged by a paradox: they want people to use their trademarked name as much as possible to promote their product; however, because the name is used so often and the product is so successful and so ubiquitous, the name of the product becomes a generic, non-capitalized word. As a result, companies like Velcro are in a constant battle to protect their trademark and in turn their bottom line. The lines are blurred even more when a word, like Google, becomes used so often that it becomes more than just a noun. No doubt the legal department at Google and the neologism department at the American Heritage Dictionary are both busy tracing the growth and development of this word.

The following statement from the Velcro website is an example of the kinds of reminders and warnings that companies put out to protect their brand names:

The goodwill and integrity which are reflective of the Velcro companies are ingrained in the VELCRO® trademark. This makes the trademark a very valuable asset to the company and to our customers who purchase the VELCRO® brand fasteners.

Many terms that we all use frequently in our everyday language were once trademarks …. All of these terms lost their distinction as trademarks because their owners allowed them to be misused by the public. That’s why the Velcro companies pay close attention to how the VELCRO® trademark is used (1).

As stated by the Velcro website, there are several brand names that were once registered trademarks, but today they have lost their capital letter and entered the dictionary and the English lexicon as generic terms, such as cellophane, escalator, and the yo-yo.  Other brands seem generic, but they legally retain their trademarks, such as Kleenex, Jet Ski, Play Dough, Popsicle, and Q-tips.

Today’s Challenge:  The Law and the Language

What are some examples of the names of specific products you might buy?  Brainstorm a large A to Z list of specific brand names of products. Then, select one of your brand names and research the history of the product and specifically the trademark history of the product’s name.  Is the product’s name a registered trademark or is it a generic term? For example, Jacuzzi is the name and registered trademark for the generic term “hot tub spas” or “whirlpool bathtubs” made by the American corporation called Jacuzzi Brands Corporation. (Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

Quotation of the Day:  . . . the average English-speaking adult knows about 40,000 words.  The number of active US trademarks is more than thirty times larger than the common English vocabulary.  -Christopher Johnson in Microstyle

1 – https://www.velcro.com/about-us/our-brand

 

May 5: Five Out of Five Day

On this fifth day of the fifth month of the year, we should pause to consider things that come in 5s.  We remember the five-second rule, the five Olympic rings, the five sides of a pentagon, the five points of a star, and the five Ws (Who, What, When, Why, and Where).  We also remember the Jackson Five, Slaughterhouse Five, high fives, “Pleading the Fifth,” and the five-paragraph essay.  We also remember, remember the fifth of November, Cinco de Mayo, “this quintessence of dust,” V for Vendetta, and the five men who have held the rank of five-star general in the U.S. Army:  Generals Marshall, MacArthur, Eisenhower, Arnold, and Bradley.

Yes, lots of things are associated with five, and lots of things come in fives.  Given the five members of the ten separate categories below, see if you can identify the title for each of the Famous Five categories below:

 

 

  • center, point guard, shooting guard, power forward, small forward
  • Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy
  • Sight, touch, taste, smell, hearing
  • Thumb, index/pointer, middle, ring, pinky
  • Maggie, Lisa, Bart, Marge, Homer
  • Shooting, swimming, equestrian, fencing, running
  • Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday
  • Doric, Ionic, Corinthian, Composite, Tuscan
  • Acheron, Cocytus, Phlegethon, Lethe, Styx
  • Huron, Superior, Michigan, Ontario, Erie

Today’s Challenge:  Five Out of Five on 5/5

What are some categories of people, places, or things you could rate using a five-star rating system?  Select a general category; then, generate a list of at least five members of that category.  

Example Categories:

Mythical Creatures, Birthday Traditions, Ad Slogans, School Rules, Days of the Week, Aspects of a Bowling Alley, Inventions That Changed History, Homecoming Traditions, Scary Food, Punctuation Marks, Cartoon Characters, My Bucket List, Annual Events, Things That Come in Five, Ways to Celebrate Cinco de Mayo, Best Stephen King Novels, Breeds of Dog, Song for Getting Motivated, Best SAT Vocabulary Words, Best Quotations of Just Five Words, Best Places to Go That Are Less Than Five Miles Away

Then, write your subjective assessment of each member of the category along with a rating.  Of course, on 5/5 it makes sense to use a five-pointed star system for your ratings. (Common Core Writing 1 – Argument)

Quotation of the Day:  Little strokes fell great oaks. -Benjamin Franklin

ANSWERS:  1-5 Basketball Positions, 2-First 5 Books of the Old Testament (The Pentateuch), 3-The 5 Senses, 4-The 5 Fingers, 5-The 5 Members of the Simpsons Family, 6-The 5 Events in the Modern Pentathlon, 7-The 5 Weekdays, 8-The 5 Classical Orders of Architecture , 9-The 5 Rivers of Hades, 10-The 5 Great Lakes

 

April 20:  Urban Legends Day

This day is purported by some to be the day that Jim Morrison, Jimi Hendrix, and Janis Joplin died, but don’t believe it. Although all three of these celebrities shared a background of drug use and rock ‘n roll, they each died on a separate day other than 4/20.

The date and number 420 has somehow evolved to connote drug use, and there are a number of stories related to why, such as the supposed common death date of the trio of dead rock stars alluded to earlier. Other stories claim that the Los Angeles police code for “marijuana use in progress” is 420, or that the number of chemical compounds in marijuana is 420. Both of these claims are untrue. No one knows for certain the origin of these stories, and this brings us to the topic of urban legends.

An urban legend is defined as a story that is “too good to be true” by Jan Harold Brunvand, a professor at the University of Utah and the world’s expert in collecting and analyzing urban legends. Brunvand says these stories are told “as if they are really true, attributed to a friend of a friend of a friend.” Each time the story is told, the basic elements (or motifs) are the same, but the setting and other minor details change.

For example, a friend might tell you about a story he heard from a friend of a friend that goes like this:

There’s this man, see, and he dresses up like a little old lady and accosts unsuspecting women in shopping malls. Usually, he waits in the car. When the owner of the car shows up, bags in tow, the stranger pleads fatigue and asks her for a ride home. Then the driver notices her passenger’s hairy legs, the wig and, oh yeah, the knife!

This is an example of a story that was reported in the Seattle Times on May 4, 1983. It was reported as a rumor that was running up and down the shores of Puget Sound, and no doubt a story that had appeared in various parts of the country if not the world.

Even in a modern, urbanized society, people still love to tell stories. Maybe this is because we were telling stories long before the invention of writing. Urban legends allow even strangers to connect with each other. Another bonus is that they can be easily reconstructed from the basic elements of the tale and don’t need to be told exactly the same way every time (1).

Urban legends come under the category of folklore: songs, legends, beliefs, crafts, and customs that are passed on from one generation to the next by word of mouth. An adjective that is frequently used to describe urban legends is apocryphal. The modern definition according to the American Heritage College Dictionary is “of questionable authorship or authenticity.” The roots of the word are from Greek, meaning secret or hidden. The word was used in Latin to describe the books excluded from the canon of the Old and New Testaments, and these books are still identified today as the Apocrypha.

Today’s Challenge: Tell the Tall Tale

What is a tale you have heard from a friend of a friend?  Tell your own version of an urban legend, but provide enough concrete details about the specific setting, characters, plot, and dialogue to make it sound true. (Common Core Writing 3 – Narrative)

Quote of the Day: The most outrageous lies that can be invented will find believers if a man only tells them with all his might. -Mark Twain

  1. – cnn.com

http://www.cnn.com/books/beginnings/9909/urban.legends/index.html?eref=sitesearch