September 17:  Short Poem Day

William Carlos Williams passport photograph 1921.jpgToday is the birthday of American poet William Carlos Williams (1883-1963).  William was born and lived most of his life in Rutherford, New Jersey.  He grew up in a bilingual home; his father was English and his mother was Puerto Rican.  In addition to being an accomplished poet, Williams was also a practicing physician.  His most famous poem is “The Red Wheelbarrow,” which was published in his book Spring and All published in 1923.

The Red Wheelbarrow

so much depends

upon

a red wheel

barrow

glazed with rain

water

beside the white

chickens.

William’s poem typifies the imagism, an early 20th-century movement in which poets strove to use common language and clear, precise imagery.

Today’s Challenge:  Poetry 100

Find a short published poem (50 words or fewer) by William Carlos William or some other poet.  Memorize and recite the poem, noticing how the poet uses economy of language to make meaning.  Then, compose your own short poem of 50 words or less.

Today’s Quotation:  “Brevity is the soul of wit.”  –William Shakespeare

September 16:  Eponymous Law Day

Today is the birthday of Laurence J. Peter (1919-1990), the author of the book The Peter Principle. Peter was an education professor at the University of Southern California and the University of British Columbia, but he became famous in the field of business when he published The Peter Principle in 1969. The book is full of case histories that illustrate why every organization seems to fall short of reaching maximum productivity and profit. His explanation relates to the corporate mentality that promotes productive workers upward until they achieve positions beyond their ability to perform competently.

Peter’s insights into the organizational structures of businesses were so well-received that The Peter Principle has gone well beyond just the title of a popular book; it has entered the language as an adage, immortalizing its creator. The American Heritage Dictionary records the following definition of the Peter Principle:

The theory that employees within an organization will advance to their highest level of competence and then be promoted to and remain at a level at which they are incompetent (1).

Laurence Peter is not alone in the world of eponymous lawsa principle or general rule that named for a person.  Below are some examples of other eponymous laws or principles:

Ockham’s Razor

Murphy’s Law

The Dilbert Principle

Hofstadter’s Law 

Parkinson’s Law

Amara’s Law

Stigler’s Law of Eponymy.

Today’s Challenge:  Laying Down the Law

What are some general rules or principles that you have noticed based on your experience of living in the real world?  Attach your name to the one that you think is the most original and most insightful.  Then, explain and define your law, and give examples of when and where the law comes into play and how it can assist people in living better lives. (Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

Example:

Backman’s Law of Student Speeches:   The likelihood of a sudden, unexpected, and unexplainable attack of laryngitis increases the closer a student approaches the period or time when he or she is required to give a speech.

This law helps one anticipate the strange phenomenon which renders students incapable of giving their assigned speeches. Debilitated by the sudden onset of speechlessness, a student will hobble into class and approach the teacher.  Pointing to his throat and frowning pathetically, the student will then bravely make an attempt to utter a single sentence.  Risking further throat injury, the student will whisper, “I don’t think I’m going to be able -cough! cough! – to go today.” The student will then turn and limp to his seat.  The bout of laryngitis usually ends at the tolling of the class’s final bell, miraculously disappearing just as suddenly as it appeared sixty minutes earlier. Multiple medical studies by reputable research centers have failed to determine a reasonable cause for this debilitating yet temporary affliction; however, a team of research scientists at John Hopkins is currently conducting a study that promises to produce some breakthrough findings.

1 – American Heritage Dictionary. Peter Principle. 5th Edition 2018. https://www.ahdictionary.com/word/search.html?q=Peter+principle&submit.x=0&submit.y=0.

September 15:  Opposing Argument Day

On this day 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.

Another 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 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:  Seeing Both Sides

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)

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.

A 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 (1).

Key’s words are 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? (2)

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 1 – Argument)

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

2- Key, Francis Scott, 1779-1843. “The Star-Spangled Banner.” Public Domain.

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.

The 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.

I, Libertine (book cover).jpgThe 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 (1).

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! (Common Core Writing 3 – Narrative)

1-Callan, Mathew. The Man Behind the Brilliant Media Hoax of ‘I Libertine.’ The Awl 14 Feb. 2014.

September 12:  Croissants and Cappuccino Day

On this day 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” (See July 13:  I Came, I Saw, I Conquered Day).

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 items.  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)

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 day 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.  Wallace challenges their reticence, asking them to think ahead to the future when they will regret that they did not fight for their freedom. They will wish for the chance to return to this spot and fight their enemy. After listening to Wallace’s succinct, clear, and forceful speech, they storm into battle.

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

Today’s Challenge:  Moving Them 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 chosen, combining logic and passion to move the audience to action. (Common Core Writing 3 – Narrative)

1- Hickman, Kennedy. Scottish Independence: Battle of Stirling Bridgehttps://www.thoughtco.com/scottish-independence-battle-of-stirling-bridge-2360736. Thoughtco.com. 22 Mar. 2018.

September 10:  Notorious Eponym Day

On this day in 1945, Vidkun Quisling was convicted of high treason for his collaboration with the Germans 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 treasonous 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).

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, has 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.

bowdlerize, chauvinism, draconian, gerrymander, lynch, narcissism, procrustean  (Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

1- History in an Hour.com. Vidkun Quisling, the Norweigian Nazi. 24 Oct. 2010. .

September 9:  State Motto Day

Today is the anniversary of California’s admission as the 31st state of the Union. The discovery of gold in California in 1848 caused its population to explode, and in 1849 settlers applied for admission to the Union after drafting a state constitution that prohibited slavery. Because making California a state would upset the balance of free and slave states, statehood was delayed until September 9, 1850, when the Compromise of 1850 opened the door for California statehood.

In addition to a state constitution, Californians adopted a state seal in 1849 with the motto “Eureka,” — The Greek word for “I Have Found It” — an appropriate interjection for a state whose reputation was made on gold strikes (1).

California is not the only state with a motto in a tongue other than English.  In fact, ‘English Only’ proponents might be surprised to learn that more than half of the states in the union have mottos in other languages.

Here are the statistics on the polyglot mottos:

Latin: 22

French: 2

Greek: 1

Hawaiian: 1

Spanish: 1

Italian: 1

Native American – Chinook: 1

Six states feature one-word mottos. Only one state, Vermont, has its state’s name in its motto, and Florida is the only state with the same motto as the United States of America: “In God We Trust.”

Today’s Challenge:  Motto Mania

What’s your idea for a new state motto?  Generate some possible new state mottos for your home state or the other 49 states.  Host a state motto contest.  The mottos may be funny or serious, but they should all be memorable; after all, they may someday be emblazoned on a license plate.  (Common Core Language 3 – Knowledge of Language)

1-Brittanica.com.  California History.

September 8:  International Literacy Day

Today is International Literacy Day sponsored by the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). First observed in 1966, International Literacy Day calls attention to the need to promote literacy and education around the world as an antidote to poverty and as an agent for empowerment and global progress (1).

Education and literacy are central to the stability, prosperity, and well-being of any country. As explained by Koichiro Matsuura, UNESCO Director-General:

Literacy is not merely a cognitive skill of reading, writing and arithmetic, for literacy helps in the acquisition of learning and life skills that, when strengthened by usage and application throughout people’s lives, lead to forms of individual, community and societal development that are sustainable.

While literacy rates are on the rise around the world, there are still millions of people who are unable to read and write.  The goal of International Literacy Day is to both celebrate literacy and to promote ideas for stamping out illiteracy.

Today’s Challenge: Read All About It

What can people do to celebrate and promote literacy? Research some quotations on the topic of literacy.  Reflect on these quotations and then, write the text of a Public Service Announcement (PSA) to promote literacy and International Literacy Day.  Incorporate at least one of the quotations you found on literacy into your PSA.  (Common Core Writing 1 – Argument)

1- UNESCO. International Literacy Day 2017. https://en.unesco.org/themes/literacy-all/literacy-day