November 10

1989


Finding ways to divide human beings is not difficult, and putting up metaphorical walls is the standard methodology, when we do not resort to ethnic cleansing and genocide.


Physical walls are rarer, unless you count ghettos, of which the great wall along the West Bank of the River Jordan is probably just a lengthy psychological extension. The Great Wall of China was erected, like Hadrian's Wall before it, to keep out the supposedly barbarian, though maintaining it transformed the Chinese, like the Romans, into barbarians themselves, and thereby defeated the purpose. The Great Wall in the imagination of President Trump, envisaged as a way of keeping out Mexicans, is likely to prove just as ineffective, because even Donald Trump wants the pot-holes in his roads mended, and his swimming-pool cleaned, and his green-groceries delivered to his shopping mall, and who is going to do that for less than minimum wage if not the illegal Mexicans?


The purpose of the Berlin Wall, or the Berliner Mauer as it was known in West Germany, the Antifaschistischer Schutzwall as it was known in East Germany, was less obvious. Was it intended to keep the West Germans out, or to keep what was left of the East Germans in - 3.5 million of them had fled between 1946 and 1960? It achieved both, but also, of course, neither, for no West German with an iota of brain had any desire to go and be reduced to zero by the vile nastiness of the East German dictatorship, a revised form of Hitlerian Fascism really, though it flew a Communist flag of convenience in servitude to its masters in Moscow, and claimed that it was the Democratic West who were the inheritors of fascism.

It was today, in 1989, that Germans from both sides began demolishing it, an undertaking that was finally completed in 1992. The midnight before, as the BBC reported, the East German authorities recognised that time was up, and gave permission for the gates to be opened. The expectation was that vast crowds would pour through the gates, en route to freedom. What they did not anticipate was the numbers, on both sides, who simply grabbed whatever implement they could find, climbed onto the summit of the wall, and began to tear it down. A lesson for the rest of us!








Amber pages


William Hogarth, English artist and engraver, born today in 1697


Oliver Goldsmith, Irish author, born today in 1728


Friedrich von Schiller, German Romantic poet, born today in 1759


The explorer Henry Morton Stanley presumed that he had finally found the supposedly lost explorer David Livingstone, today in 1871; at Ujiji, a small village on the shore of Lake Tanganyika


Michinomiya Hirohito enthroned as the 124th Emperor of Japan, today in 1928. All the history books date his reign from December 25th 1926, which was the day his father died and he filled the vacancy on the "Chrysanthemum Throne"; the formal ceremony of enthronement was what took place today. At that ceremony he was given the title "Showa Tenno", which means "Enlightened Peace", a sobriquet that he would spend most of the next twenty years fulfilling, starting with the invasion of China in 1937, followed by the attack on Pearl Harbour in 1940. 


Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, founder of the Turkish Republic, died today in 1939


Microsoft Windows introduced, today in 1983 



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March 6

Image result for affirmative action1961, 1077


1961 first, because that represents the modern world, of extraordinary human progress, of enlightened thought and democracy in practice, whereas 1077 was the Dark Ages.

Known in America as "affirmative action", it was signed into law by JFK on this day in 1961, not as an Act of Congress but by "Executive Order 1925", its intention quite explicitly to confront racial discrimination by requiring employers to "take affirmative action to ensure that applicants are employed, and employees are treated during employment, without regard to their race, creed, color, or national origin" (no wonder there are conspiracy theories about who it might have been that assassinated him!), a requirement reaffirmed by LBJ's "Executive Order 11246" in 1965, and then further re-affirmed when that extraordinary oversight "gender" was added to the list in 1967.

In other parts of the world it is both similar and very different, and this is because, at some point since JFK's historic edict, affirmative action against discrimination became turned on its head, transformed into affirmative action on behalf of the discriminated.

In the UK it is known as "positive action", in Canada as "employment equity", and in the Indian sub-continent as "reservation"; but in every case, as in America, laws of equity and equality stand in perfectly rational and reasonable opposition to this attempt to impose equality by supervening the law - an immense paradox.


The EU, for example, has adopted a policy which requires that 40% of non-executive Board directorships should go to women by 2020, though how 40% can be regarded as equity is beyond me, and why the selected group for unfair advancement should be women and not, say, gay people, or the left-handed, or Moslems, or the dyslectic, is even further beyond me - discrimination in the very act of seeking to overthrow discrimination.


In India, at the time of writing, members of the elite Patel caste have been turning up in their BMWs to protest against the reservation policy, which ensures jobs for what are still, in fact, though the name has been outlawed, the inferior caste of Harajan (click here) or "Other Backward Classes", the supposedly less insulting euphemism now in place.


In Israel, women, Arabs, black and disabled people are given advantages for both civil service employment and access to universities, which is a wonderful irony of course, given that women, black and disabled people - and self-evidently Israelis - generally have no access to either in any of the Arab states.


My favourite however is Northern Ireland where, as part of the peace process, the police are now required to recruit 50% of their numbers from the Catholic community and 50% from the Protestant "and other communities" (Jews, Moslems, atheists, Hindus, etc), in order to reduce any possible bias towards Protestants, though of course this now makes the Protestants a distinct minority, which is a breach of the UK's own laws, as well as being downright unfair.

The unfairness is the residual issue of course. Woody Allen in his nightclub years told a joke in which he was once employed as a token Jew, required to grow side-curls and given a desk in a window by the street so the world could see his employer had a Jew on staff, and then got fired for taking the day off for Yom Kippur. Tokenism. American football clubs are discussing quotas of black coaches, in order to show the world that they are fighting against discrimination. But in fact they are simply endorsing discrimination - being employed because you are black is just as discriminatory as being rejected for employment because you are black, because it is making an issue out of your blackness, rather than out of your humanity. And at the same time it discriminates against non-blacks, who are now even less likely to get the jobs.


The world's most democratic country, Sweden (see here), has decreed quotas illegal, its supreme court insisting that, in the cause of both equity and equality, "the requirements should be the same for all". Indeed so. Should not every discriminated group have a portion (native American Indians included, and you only count as a native American if your family can trace their roots back to 1491 or earlier) – women, left-handed people, Jews, Moslems, the educationally disadvantaged, the physically disabled, alcoholics, fat people, ugly women, Mormons, Roma, gypsies, tall people, short people, gays, transgendered people, and of course all the local xenophobic favourites as well (Serbs in Croatia, Croatians in Serbia, that sort of thing...)


In America they have now created "Black Lives Matter", to which the White Supremacists have responded by creating "White Lives Matter". I am seriously considering setting up "Bald, Fat, Myopic Lives Matter", but suspect I would be banned, and quite rightly so, despite no one suggesting banning those other two. Would I have the remotest, slightest, tiniest, even the teeny-weeniest chance of getting supporters, if I called it "Human Lives Matter"?





Meanwhile, back in the Dark Ages, in 1077...

Whatever England's greatest ever scientist, the 13th century Friar Roger Bacon (click here to learn more about him) may have known about the errors in the Julian calendar, they were still three hundred years behind the "ignorant" and "Infidel" Moslems, whom enlightened Christians were fighting in the Crusades in order to protect true knowledge from these "heathens". 

Bacon will have used as a reference-point the al-Jalali calendar, the one that Omar Ibrahim al-Khayyam and his fellow mathematicians devised in Baghdad, and which they completed on March 6th 1077 (Jumada al-thani 6, 478 AH), actually far more accurate than the later Gregorian which is now regarded as Universal Time, having an error rate of 1:3770 years where the Gregorian is 1:3330. Using 12 months of 30 days each, with 5 intercalary days added to achieve the solar balance... but the detail isn't important, because the calendar has been rejected by every country except Iran and Afghanistan, and since we are once again fighting a Crusade against those "ignorant Infidels"...

You were right though when you thought you recognised the name, Omar Khayyam - in full Ghiyath al-Din Abul Fateh Omar ibn Ibrahim al-Khayyam. We know him from Fitzgerald's 19th century translation of his "Rubaiyat", but in truth the "Rubaiyat" was the least of his works. An astronomer (and an occasional astrologer), he worked, like his father, as a physician - Moslem medicine in his day was at about the level of European medicine in the early 20th century, including a full understanding that blood circulates, which Europe would only accept after Harvey in the early 1600s. 

In his spare time he was a philosopher, and a mathematician, whence the calendar work. He focused particularly on Algebra, a word that comes from the treatise "Hidab al-jabr wal-muqubala" (usually translated, slightly awkwardly, as "The Compendious Book on Calculation by Completion and Balancing"), written in Baghdad around 825 CE (210 AH) by the Arab mathematician Mohammed ibn-Musa al-Khwarizmi (who also gave his name to the modern concept of the algorithm)

Khayyam challenged Archimedes' conclusions about cubic equations, insisting that they must have more than one possible solution (we don't really do cubic equations in schools today; too difficult; we tend to stick with quadratic equations. For the information a quadratic equation might be ax2 + bx + c = 0; a cubic equation would add another layer, ax3 + bx2 + cx + d = 0). 

Khayyam published his "Treatise on the Demonstration of Problems of Algebra and Balancing" in 1070 (463 AH), when he was just 22. Just the beginning of an extraordinary career - though far from untypical in his day, or through the next several centuries, anywhere from Kabul to Cordoba. You can read more about him by clicking here, or about all the great Moslem and Arab scientists when my novel "The Persian Fire" comes out, very soon.

For his epitaph, punning on the meaning of his name, he wrote:

          “Khayyam, who stitched the tents of science,
            Has fallen in grief’s furnace and been burned.
            The shears of fate have cut the tent ropes of his life
            And the broker of hope in selling him will not have earned”
                                                                             (my translation)

A rubaiyat is a quatrain.



Amber pages





And mid-way between these two epochs that challenge the view that humanity progresses because time moves forward, Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni, Italian painter and sculptor, born today in 1475






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December 31

Apocalypse Now


The last day of the calendar year is traditionally the eve of the apocalypse, so I am using this date to offer a number of ways in which the apocalypse is already happening.

Global warming is well enough known not to require more than a mention here (though in terms of the impact that it is likely to have on world over-population, it is, truthfully, just the tip of the iceberg). 

But what about the other routes to impending death?

Food, for example. Did you know that the biggest cause of brain disease and obesity in the western world is... supermarket chickens. Once you've heard the medical evidence, and before that seen the conditions in which the fowl are reared, you may never want to eat anything again. Take a look at the video, and when you've watched it, watch its second part as well:


SUPERMARKET SECRETS & DECEPTIONS PART 1 (Full Video)

SUPERMARKET SECRETS & DECEPTIONS PART 2 (Full Video) 


As to all the other routes to impending death - go to my blog The World Hourglass (click here) and then choose any page, literally any page...


Amber pages

Jacques Cartier, French explorer, born today in 1491; Charles Edward Stuart, Scotland's "Bonnie Prince Charlie", born today in 1720; Henri Matisse, French painter, born today in 1869; Simon Wiesenthal, Nazi hunter, born today in 1908; Odetta Homes Felious Gordon, folk-blues singer, born today in 1930; Krishna Bhanji, actor, better known as Ben Kingsley, born today in 1943




You can find David Prashker at:


Copyright © 2016 David Prashker
All rights reserved
The Argaman Press

June 28

1981, 1903 



Many names, dates and events to place on today's page, but this is personal history, so I must take the personal first: the death, today in 1981, of Terrence Stanley Fox, a nobody really, in the world of great artists, thinkers, politicos, scientists, a 23-year-old kid from Winnipeg in Canada, who didn't really do anything, except get very, very sick, and understand that there was nothing anyone could do about it, and then god damn it he did something about it himself, the only thing he could...and then he died.

Terry Fox, as those of us who joined the annual race in his honour, raising funds for cancer research, preferred to call him, was diagnosed with osteogenic sarcoma, a form of bone cancer, when he was just 17; they amputated his right leg six inches above the knee in 1977, and gave him a prosthetic leg at a time when prosthetics were hardly any further out of their infancy than he was. Research was needed, for cancer especially, and research requires funding; so Terry decided to raise some. He set out on his Marathon of Hope from St. John's, Newfoundland on April 12th, 1980, planning to cross Canada at the rate of a marathon, twenty-six miles, per day, seven days a week until he got there.

Given that he came from the nobodies, it was only to be expected that nobody would pay him any attention; but gradually some of the somebodies heard about it, and he was drawing crowds to salute him, the media were following, the police were providing an escort, and the money was dripping in - at about the same rate as chemotherapy, which is slow and painful, when what he badly needed was fast, and lots. 143 days and 5,373 kilometres (3,339 miles) of hobbling his way through Quebec and most of Ontario had brought him to Thunder Bay on September 1st 1980, and from there he would get no further. The cancer was in his lungs and the only place he was hobbling to now was hospital. He died today, June 28th, the following year.

My own minuscule involvement was as a Head of School in Toronto in the early years of this century. Like almost every school in Canada, our kids trained for weeks, and filled up their sponsorship forms for months, so that they could be participate in the Terry Fox annual run, a mere few miles around the local park in our case, but these were 5-13 year olds, and distance wasn't the objective.

Since that first day in St John's Newfoundland, more than $750 million Canadian dollars have been raised for cancer research in Terry's name, and it still isn't enough. Feel free to make your personal donation here.
   



One day earlier, and George Padmore would have found a place in my novel "A Journey In Time", where he might have been mildly uncomfortable alongside Emma Goldman, Harry Pollitt, Earl Browder and Danielle Casanova, all of them convinced Marxists who fought for freedom and the rights of the common man, but without necessarily yielding their intellectual dignity to the Kremlin or the Forbidden City. Alas he didn't make it, because he was born on June 28th 1903, and the criterion for admission to that novel was birth, or death, or some incident of significance, on June 27th.

I am guessing that you have never heard of George Padmore, though his name should be on the honour board in your personal hall of fame, alongside Martin Luther King and Seretse Khama and Nelson Mandela and Jomo Kenyatta and Kwame Nkrumah and Steve Biko, as one of the key figures in the progress made by Africans in Africa, and in the post-slavery and post-imperial world beyond, in rediscovering their dignity, and asserting their rights, in reclaiming their identity, and demanding their freedom.

He was born Malcolm Ivan Meredith Nurse in Trinidad, graduated from St. Mary's College in Port-of-Spain, became a reporter for the Trinidad Guardian but then moved to America in 1924, intending to study medicine but taking a law degree instead, in order to become an anti-racism advocate under his new name, George Padmore. In 1927 he joined the Communist Party, and edited the "Negro Champion", later called the "Liberator", based in Harlem. At a time when blacks in America could only rise above their lowly status if there was a noose around their neck to lift them there, Padmore moved to the Soviet Union, where he and the Jamaican poet Claude McKay were the only non-politicos from the west to be given an office within the Kremlin. His job, as head of the Negro Bureau of the Red International of Labour Unions, was to edit the organisation's journal, "Negro Worker" (he also published his first book at this time, "Life and Struggle of Negro Toilers", an investigation of the working conditions of black people around the world), and especially to travel, spreading the word of Pan-Africanism wherever he could, recruiting leaders for African liberation movements, which he did gladly, until he was instructed to stop. The Soviets had joined with Britain and France against Hitler, and suddenly supporting African liberation was an obstacle to that union. Padmore was incensed, refused, and was expelled, first from the Komintern, then the Communist Party, and finally from Russia.

He moved to London next, where he published his second book, "Africa and World Peace", organised the International African Service Bureau (IASB), edited its journal "International African Opinion", and befriended C.L.R James, the author of "Black Jacobins", an extraordinary account of the liberation of Haiti from the French, British and Spanish. Padmore's third book, "How Russia Transformed Her Colonial Empire: A Challenge to Imperial Powers" did not go down well in wartime Britain, and even less well in post-war Britain, where the Soviets were once again the enemy, and the Pan-African Federation, with which Padmore had merged his Bureau in 1944, were simply anathema - Jomo Kenyatta of would-be Kenya, Kwame Nkrumah of would-be Ghana, the Fifth Pan-African Congress which had the gall to assemble in Manchester and call for the end of colonialism and imperialism throughout Africa, and of which Padmore was one of the principal organisers and speakers. When he published "Africa: Britain's Third Empire" in 1949, the British banned it in both Kenya and the Gold Coast. Dauntless, and at the personal suggestion of Nkrumah, he followed up with "The Gold Coast Revolution" in 1953, a study of that colony's struggle to achieve self-government, and then, in 1956, "Pan-Africanism or Communism?", which represented his final break with Communism as much as it did his commitment to the need for an indigenously African way forward.

When the Gold Coast became independent Ghana in 1957, President Nkrumah invited Padmore to Accra as his personal adviser on African affairs. Two years later, at a conference in Liberia, he was taken ill, flown to London for treatment, but died, on September 23rd 1959, and was buried at Christianborg Castle, a relic of Dutch imperialism in Osu, Accra, and now the seat of the Ghanaian parliament.

For a full list of Padmore's writings, I cannot resist the irony of directing you to the website of marxists.org, and with rather less irony to the institute established in his name, which splendidly describes Padmore's "vision of a world unburdened from the arrogance and tribulation of empires and dedicated to equality, solidarity and hope."



Amber pages


Peter Paul Rubens, Flemish painter, born today in 1577


Jean-Jacques Rousseau, French philosopher, born today in 1712


Luigi Pirandello, playwright, born today in 1867



Treaty of Versailles signed ending WWI, today in 1919 - did they choose the date symbolically?


First black US cabinet member sworn in (Robert Clifton Weaver), today in 1966 (is it frankly credible that it took this long? does this not just tell you everything you didn't want to know about white-black relations in America - and MLK assassinated on April 4 of the same year!


Stonewall Inn riots started in New York, today in 1969. (First the niggers, then the faggots! Better watch out or it'll be the Yids and the pussies next, and then they'll be trying to shut down our beloved NRA and KKK, and then what hope for glorious America? ... I wonder if this is the place to write about that oddity of language, that the words "compassion" and "mercy" in both Hebrew and Arabic, which is to say in both the Jewish and the Moslem worlds, are etymologically connected to the word for "womb", while all those symbols of "power" and "supremacy", the guns and rifles, the submarines and airplanes, the sports cars and the sports sticks, every one of them without exception is phallic).


US Supreme Court reversed Muhammad Ali's conviction for refusing induction in the US Army, today in 1971. A moment of redemption, I guess. I wonder how Muhammad Ali and George Padmore would have got on.


And last, because it allows me a wonderful symmetry on this page, the amazing and extraordinary Helen Keller, deaf, dumb and blind since she contracted scarlet fever when she was just nineteen months old, graduated with honors from Radcliffe College, today in 1904 (the day after her 24th birthday). Special mention to the always forgotten Anne Sullivan, her guide and teacher - more on both of them, and Gavrilo Princip, the man whose gun triggered World War 1 by assassinating Archduke Ferdinand today in 1914, in "A Journey In Time".




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Copyright © 2016 David Prashker
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The Argaman Press

March 3


2015, 1931


Two curiously connected dates; the second is below; the first is the more recent:


2015


Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, invited to speak to a joint session of Congress by Republican Senate Speaker John Boehner, without bothering to consult with President Obama - a symptom of the appalling state of American politics, which had come down to little more than nose-thumbing from both sides. Inviting Netanyahu just two weeks before an Israeli election was surely no coincidence either, but the real point was the on-going discussions between Iran and various parties, including the US and the EU, which at that moment were within days of a possible conclusion. From the instant of the announcement of the invitation, Netanyahu's visit was controversial, to the extent that many Democratic Representatives and Senators chose not to attend his speech. It required political and diplomatic skills of the highest order to make any sort of speech in such circumstances, yet Netanyahu managed it. Below are two links, the first to a transcript of the speech published by the Washington Post, the second to a video of it broadcast by the New York Times.



1931

Question: for how long has America had a National Anthem?

Answer: you'll be surprised. Only since 1931. Here's the story. 


In 1812 Britain and America went to war. It lasted three years. On September 3rd, 1814, a man named Francis Scott Key was sent with a flag of truce on a mission by President Madison, to secure the release of a physician named William Beanes who was accused of aiding the arrest of British soldiers. He boarded a British flagship in Chesapeake outside Baltimore, and spoke with two senior British commanders, who agreed the request. But Key overheard them discussing war plans, so he was not permitted to leave the ship until the battle was over.

During the night, Key witnessed the ferocious bombardment of Fort McHenry and Baltimore, and noticed that the fort's flag continued to fly right to the end, when the Americans had held out for an improbable victory. In the morning the soldiers in the Fort raised an even larger flag to celebrate their victory.

That flag, which at the time had only fifteen stars and fifteen stripes, came to be known as the Star Spangled Banner, and you can actually see it on display in the National Museum of American History at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington.

Key was so inspired by the victory at Baltimore that he scribbled a poem on the back of a letter he happened to have in his pocket. He finished the poem a few nights later, and gave it the title "The Defense of Fort McHenry".

Later he gave the poem to his brother-in-law, who thought it would fit a drinking song called "The Anacreontic Song", written by John Stafford Smith for the Anacreontic Society, a gentleman's club in London - which was not a gentleman's club as we understand the term today, but a gathering of amateur musicians. Two newspapers printed the song, and then a host of other newspapers reprinted it, changing its title to "The Star-Spangled Banner" (well, wouldn't you? Think of all the bad puns people could make out of the original, of which "The Anachronistic Song" may be the most obvious, but probably the least derogatory). Under its new name it became an immediate hit, and in July 1889, seventy-five years after it was written, the Secretary of the Navy made it the official tune to be played whenever the flag was raised.

Move forward another twenty-seven years, to 1916, when President Woodrow Wilson ordered that "The Star-Spangled Banner" be played at all military and "other appropriate occasions", which included the baseball World Series of 1918.

Another thirteen years on, to 1929, and a man named Robert Ripley drew a cartoon, making fun of the fact that America was the only country in the world that did not have a national anthem. So on March 3rd 1931 President Herbert Hoover signed an order (46 Stat. 1508, codified at 36 U.S.C. § 301) making "The Star-Spangled Banner" the official national anthem of the United States.

The text below includes the guitar chords that I worked out with my Miami school's music teacher when we decided that the regular recitation that alternates with the Oath of Allegiance needed musical accompaniment, and no website or chord book that we could find offered any guitar chords; people who can actually sing this terribly complicated music are even fewer (it's the modulation to C# in the fifth line that causes the problems), though piano arrangements are easy to find.
     E           B     C#m   Ab       C#m        F#  B
O! say can you see       by the dawn's early   light

              E                 B                  E
What so proudly we hailed at the twilight's last gleaming.

B                    E               B        C#m  Ab              C#m   F#  B      
Whose broad stripes and bright stars  through the perilous   fight,

              E                  B                         E
O'er the ramparts we watched were so gallantly streaming.

                                  C#                           F#m         B
And the rockets' red glare, the bombs bursting in air,

         E                           B                     C#m      F#   B
Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there.

       E                      A            C#   F#m      F#7    Bsus B
Oh, say does that  star-spangled  banner  yet      wave

              E      B       E      C#m    E/B        B7  E
O'er the land of the free and the home of the  brave?


There are actually three other verses, though they are not part of the national anthem:


On the shore, dimly seen through the mists of the deep,
Where the foe's haughty host in dread silence reposes,
What is that which the breeze, o'er the towering steep,
As it fitfully blows, half conceals, half discloses?
Now it catches the gleam of the morning's first beam,
In full glory reflected now shines in the stream:
'Tis the star-spangled banner! Oh long may it wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

And where is that band who so vauntingly swore
That the havoc of war and the battle's confusion,
A home and a country should leave us no more!
Their blood has washed out their foul footsteps' pollution.
No refuge could save the hireling and slave
From the terror of flight, or the gloom of the grave:
And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

O! thus be it ever, when freemen shall stand
Between their loved home and the war's desolation!
Blest with victory and peace, may the heav'n rescued land
Praise the Power that hath made and preserved us a nation.
Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just,
And this be our motto: 'In God is our trust.'
And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave

O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave!




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The Argaman Press

October 18

1862


The whole world knows about Emile Zola's open letter in defence of Alfred Dreyfus, or perhaps I should say in opposition to anti-Semitism and injustice, the one that begins with the words "J'Accuse"; it was published on the front page of the newspaper "L'Aurore" on January 13th 1898, and led to Zola's trial, conviction, and flight into exile from France; eventually his assassination (read the detail here). 

On the other hand, very few people seem even to be aware of the letter that Victor Hugo wrote, to a Monsieur Daelli, the Milanese publisher of the Italian translation of "Les Miserables", from Hauteville House, the home on the isle of Guernsey where he lived out the long years of his exile from France (1856 to 1870). That letter is dayed October 18th, 1862:


"You are right, sir, when you tell me that 'Les Miserables' is written for all nations. I do not know whether it will be read by all, but I wrote it for all. It is addressed to England as well as to Spain, to Italy as well as to France, to Germany as well as to Ireland, to Republics which have slaves as well as to Empires which have serfs. Social problems overstep frontiers. The sores of the human race, those great sores which cover the globe, do not halt at the red or blue lines traced upon the map. In every place where man is ignorant and despairing, in every place where woman is sold for bread, wherever the child suffers for lack of the book which should instruct him and of the hearth which should warm him, the book of 'Les Miserables' knocks at the door and says: 'Open to me, I come for you.'

"At the hour of civilization through which we are now passing, and which is still so sombre, the miserable's name is Man; he is agonizing in all climes, and he is groaning in all languages.

"Your Italy is no more exempt from the evil than is our France. Your admirable Italy has all miseries on the face of it. Does not banditism, that raging form of pauperism, inhabit your mountains? Few nations are more deeply eaten by that ulcer of convents which I have endeavored to fathom. In spite of your possessing Rome, Milan, Naples, Palermo, Turin, Florence, Sienna, Pisa, Mantua, Bologna, Ferrara, Genoa, Venice, a heroic history, sublime ruins, magnificent ruins, and superb cities, you are, like ourselves, poor. You are covered with marvels and vermin. Assuredly, the sun of Italy is splendid, but, alas, azure in the sky does not prevent rags on man.

"Like us, you have prejudices, superstitions, tyrannies, fanaticisms, blind laws lending assistance to ignorant customs. You taste nothing of the present nor of the future without a flavor of the past being mingled with it. You have a barbarian, the monk, and a savage, the lazzarone. The social question is the same for you as for us. There are a few less deaths from hunger with you, and a few more from fever; your social hygiene is not much better than ours; shadows, which are Protestant in England, are Catholic in Italy; but, under different names, the vescovo is identical with the bishop, and it always means night, and of pretty nearly the same quality. To explain the Bible badly amounts to the same thing as to understand the Gospel badly.

"Is it necessary to emphasize this? Must this melancholy parallelism be yet more completely verified? Have you not indigent persons? Glance below. Have you not parasites? Glance up. Does not that hideous balance, whose two scales, pauperism and parasitism, so mournfully preserve their mutual equilibrium, oscillate before you as it does before us? Where is your army of schoolmasters, the only army which civilization acknowledges?

"Where are your free and compulsory schools? Does every one know how to read in the land of Dante and of Michael Angelo? Have you made public schools of your barracks? Have you not, like ourselves, an opulent war-budget and a paltry budget of education? Have not you also that passive obedience which is so easily converted into soldierly obedience? Military establishment which pushes the regulations to the extreme of firing upon Garibaldi; that is to say, upon the living honour of Italy?

"Let us subject your social order to examination, let us take it where it stands and as it stands, let us view its flagrant offences, show me the woman and the child. It is by the amount of protection with which these two feeble creatures are surrounded that the degree of civilization is to be measured. Is prostitution less heart-rending in Naples than in Paris? What is the amount of truth that springs from your laws, and what amount of justice springs from your tribunals? Do you chance to be so fortunate as to be ignorant of the meaning of those gloomy words: public prosecution, legal infamy, prison, the scaffold, the executioner, the death penalty? Italians, with you as with us, Beccaria is dead and Farinace is alive. And then, let us scrutinize your state reasons. Have you a government which comprehends the identity of morality and politics? You have reached the point where you grant amnesty to heroes! Something very similar has been done in France. Stay, let us pass miseries in review, let each one contribute his pile, you are as rich as we. Have you not, like ourselves, two condemnations, religious condemnation pronounced by the priest, and social condemnation decreed by the judge? Oh, great nation of Italy, thou resemblest the great nation of France! Alas! our brothers, you are, like ourselves, Miserables.

"From the depths of the gloom wherein you dwell, you do not see much more distinctly than we the radiant and distant portals of Eden. Only, the priests are mistaken. These holy portals are before and not behind us.

"I resume. This book, Les Miserables, is no less your mirror than ours. Certain men, certain castes, rise in revolt against this book, — I understand that. Mirrors, those revealers of the truth, are hated; that does not prevent them from being of use.

"As for myself, I have written for all, with a profound love for my own country, but without being engrossed by France more than by any other nation. In proportion as I advance in life, I grow more simple, and I become more and more patriotic for humanity.

"This is, moreover, the tendency of our age, and the law of radiance of the French Revolution; books must cease to be exclusively French, Italian, German, Spanish, or English, and become European, I say more human, if they are to correspond to the enlargement of civilization.

"Hence a new logic of art, and of certain requirements of composition which modify everything, even the conditions, formerly narrow, of taste and language, which must grow broader like all the rest.

"In France, certain critics have reproached me, to my great delight, with having transgressed the bounds of what they call 'French taste'; I should be glad if this eulogium were merited.

"In short, I am doing what I can, I suffer with the same universal suffering, and I try to assuage it, I possess only the puny forces of a man, and I cry to all: 'Help me!'

"This, sir, is what your letter prompts me to say; I say it for you and for your country. If I have insisted so strongly, it is because of one phrase in your letter. You write: —

"'There are Italians, and they are numerous, who say: This book, Les Miserables, is a French book. It does not concern us. Let the French read it as a history, we read it as a romance.'

"Alas! I repeat, whether we be Italians or Frenchmen, misery concerns us all. Ever since history has been written, ever since philosophy has meditated, misery has been the garment of the human race; the moment has at length arrived for tearing off that rag, and for replacing, upon the naked limbs of the Man-People, the sinister fragment of the past with the grand purple robe of the dawn.

"If this letter seems to you of service in enlightening some minds and in dissipating some prejudices, you are at liberty to publish it, sir. Accept, I pray you, a renewed assurance of my very distinguished sentiments.

VICTOR HUGO."


Nothing that anyone can really add to that, is there? Except to say, to those who haven't, or who think that seeing the musical is sufficient - go read the book.





Amber pages


Henri Bergson, French philosopher, born today in 
1859


Pierre Trudeau, former Canadian Prime Minister, and father of the current Canadian Prime Minister, born today in 1919


Chuck Berry, or rather more boringly Charles Edward Anderson, born today in 1926


Lee Harvey Oswald, presidential assassin, born today in 1939


Martina Navratilova, Czech exile, born today in 1956


Wynton Marsalis, jazz and classical trumpeter, born today in 1961


Alaska transferred from Russia to the United States, today in 1867


The Tribunal that established the Nuremburg trials and passed judgement on the senior German leadership convened in Berlin, today in 1945 - click here for the full archival document; the minutes of this first gathering, chaired by the Tribunal's President General Major General I. T. Nikitchenko, are on page 24. The first formal session would begin, in Nuremburg, on November 14th, and they continued until October 1st, 1946