January 14

2015 (1989) [1791] {1875}

Following the Paris terrorist attacks, what else can possibly appear under this date, but this:

Good on you, Charlie!

Well, sadly, one thing - this:

Paris attacks: Pope Francis says freedom of speech has limits" (click here to read it, assuming the article hasn't been condemned and placed in the Index of Prohibited Literature in the meanwhile)

Because, yes, His Holiness the Pope, guardian of that great tradition of free speech which has been the hallmark of Catholicism since... since never. To which the only plausible response is a cartoon:-

And since I have now used up my quota of freedom of speech to post the Charlie Hebdo cartoon, and my criticism of the Pope, let me follow Kierkegaard's great maxim that

"People demand freedom of speech to make up for the freedom of thought which they avoid using"

... and then use my freedom of thought to invite you to click here, and read Charlie Winter's translation of the Islamic State women's movement's - the al Khanssaa Brigade's - manifesto "Women of the Islamic State", which might well be sub-titled "I'm not Islamophobic, just very scared."

And then... because we are honouring the great tradition of satire today, that weapon of human wit that is so much sharper than the axe of ideology or the scimitar of despotism... let me also note, because sports commentators do so love their off-the-wall statistics (this, for instance, is the first time that anyone has written this precise statement, in a silver journal, in blue ink, in Miami, on this date, while wearing a green T-shirt with black chinos, right-handed - ever: which makes it a record someone, somewhere, someday, has to beat - unless it gets disqualified because I have done it while using those performance enhancing drugs caffeine and chocolate); but in the wacky world of meaningless superstitions and fatuous data, few can beat this one, noted in a variety of otherwise intelligent newspapers of international renown, on this day in 1989:

"Ronald Reagan becomes the first U.S. President elected in a '0' year since 1840 to leave office alive"

and anyway, given the condition of his mental faculties, even this may not be certain...

I would also like to note that, on this day in 1791, Calvin Phillips "became the world's shortest man, at 61 cms, 2' 2”" - only, how do you become the world's shortest man? Did he suddenly shrink? Was he not previously even shorter, when a baby, or a boy? And was this the day on which he stopped growing? And how do they know?

And: how do they know? A quick Google-search reveals that a Taiwanese man named Lin Yih-Chih is actually shorter than Phillips by 2 cms, which is a lot at that height; and there is a South African woman named Madge Bester who comes up at 67.5 cms; or maybe it's the other way around and she's the shorter, he's the taller - is somebody trying to cheat by switching out of feet and inches into millimeters? And why are they in the newspapers for it anyway -  some sort of freak show? And can we presume that, if they made an actual competition out of this, there would have to be laws about the use of performance diminishing drugs so that people don't get shorter by cheating?
Both, I also presume, are suffering from some form of bone disease or growth impediment; I wonder if Albert Schweitzer ever came upon the condition during his many years in Africa, and if he did was he able to respond medically? I ask only because today was Schweitzer's birthday, in 1875. 

Oh, and one amberthought, which alas he is for most book-readers, even American book-readers, John dos Passos, transferred to Manhattan today in 1896. Does anyone know who did the portrait?

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