April 19

1824, 1943


1824. I have said before that I prefer to record the births rather than the deaths, but that sometimes it is the death that makes the life significant. This is definitely the case for George Gordon, English poet and "hero" of the Greek attempt to rid themselves of Turkish rule, generally remember as plain Lord Byron


                              Who fell at Missolonghi, not from guns,
                              But an incurable affliction of the runs

which is a quote from, a piece of pre-advertising for, my life of Byron, "A Small Drop of Ink", written mostly in heroic couplets and ottava rima, until

                              On Easter Friday, April the 18th,
                              The poetry collapsed into a state of coma,
                              Unrhymed, unmetred, no longer heroic.
                              At six o’clock the next evening,
                              During a violent electrical storm
                              That mirrored the violence of his own last spasm,
                              The poetry simply blanked
                              And died.

Byron actually achieved nothing in Greece, except his death, and his enshrinement with posterity. I rather suspect the same was true of my kinsman Jacub Praszker, or Jakow Praszkier as he is sometimes spelled in the archive documents, who likewise took up arms in the name of a forsaken people, in his case his own, and likewise died in doing so, in the Warsaw Ghetto uprising, which began today in 1943.

Not that it's easy to find documents of any kind in any archive, but my cousin Terry in Australia (her grandfather and my grandfather were brothers, and they fled Poland together in 1919, making their ways eventually to England) has done such research as there can be, and she has found enough to confirm his heroism.

He was born in 1913, into what was a very poor, very Hasidic branch of the family, probably in Zduńska Wola, just a few miles from the ancestral village of Praszka. 

At the beginning of the war he went to Warsaw with his wife Rosa Mastbaum, and became active at the Headquarters of Dror He-Chaluc, working at 20 Niska Street, living at 18 Muranowska Street, which was the Headquarters of the Refugee Committee, of which he was a member. His official job was to maintain communications with Histadrut Headquarters in Geneva, but he was also a member of the Jewish Military Union (ZZW), for which he obtained arms on the "Aryan" side, and the head of the youth organisation Hanoar Hasyjoni (Zionist Youth) - hard to distinguish He-Chaluc from HH, but Jews always do denominations.

When the Nazis sent their troops into the Warsaw Ghetto, to deport its surviving inhaitants to the nearest death camp, 
Jacub was given command of the Hanoar Hasyjoni teenagers, based at the brushmakers' shop, affiliated with the main Jewish Fighting Organization, the ZOB. 

The abjectly hopeless defense of the ghetto was mostly concentrated around Nalewki, Gesia and Zamenhof, and in Mila (where Leon Uris' novelistic account of the uprising is also focused) and its adjacent streets. The combat groups in the latter (naming them raises a memorial to them: may their memories be a blessing) were commanded by Zachariasz Artsztejn, Ber Braudo, Aron "Pawel" Bryskin, Josef Farber, Lewi Gruzalc, Dawid Hochberg, Lejb Rotblat and Uenryk Zylberberg. At the brush factory, which meant along Swietojerska and Walowa streets, as well as the upper section of Franciszkaiiska Street, the side with the odd-numbered houses, the combat groups were commanded by Hersz Berlinski, Jerzy "Jeleh" Blones, Jerzy Grynszpan, Chanoch Gutman and Jacub Praszkier, all these under the general command of Marek Edelman - the only one of these to survive, he spent his later years as a renowned cardiologist in Lodz.

April 17


A day of freedom, and its obverse...


Four birthdates:


1885, Baroness Karen Blixen (Isak Dinesen), Danish author ("Out of Africa")



1894, Nikita Khrushchev, Soviet Premier


1897, Thornton Wilder, American novelist and playwright - see February 16


1916, Sirimavo Bandaranaike, the world's first woman Prime Minister...

which latter is no doubt true in the specific (Prime Minister), but somewhat disingenuous in the general (national leader)... to name but a few:

Hatshepsut, Pharaohess of Egypt in the 15th century BCE

Nefertiti a hundred years after her, and several Cleopatras later on

Sammuramat of Assyria in the 9th century BCE

Eleanor of Aquitaine

Isabelle of Castille

Queens Mary and Elizabeth of Tudor England (technically Queen Jane as well, but she only lasted nine days; technically Mary Queen of Scots as well, but she was powerless throughout her reign)

Catherine de Medici, Queen of France at the same epoch

Amina of Nigeria

Mbande Nzinga of Angola

Catherine the Great of Russia

Queen Victoria of course

Tzu-Hsi and Wu Zetian, both Empresses of China

Sorghaghtani Beki of Mongolia

Nur Jahan of India

Liliuokalani, the very last ruler of independent Hawaii

Queen Seondeok of Korea

the Trung sisters, precursors of Jeanne d'Arc, who led the Vietnamese to freedom from the Chinese in the 1st century CE...


Hai Bà Trưng - the Trung Sisters

and four events:


Sir Thomas More, English statesman and writer, imprisoned today in 1534


"Bay of Pigs" invasion, today in 1961 - see November 13


Zimbabwe became independent, today in 1980 (I have a note that Ian Smith became Prime Minister of Southern Rhodesia on April 13th 1964, but I don't plan to expand on that sad fact in this blog)


Queen Elizabeth gave Canada complete independence from Britain, today in 1982 (interestingly phrased! and absolutely questionable - I once had the pleasure of sitting next to Michaëlle Jean, the then Governor-General, at a Jewish community dinner in Toronto, and in making conversation I asked her, quite directly, about this: she smiled, very graciously, and changed the subject - yes, the word I want to use here is definitely "subject").


And lastly, and quite possibly my favourite recorded historic moment ever (yes, I know I've said this on several other occasions):

Today, in 1986, peace was formally agreed, and signed, between the Netherlands and the Scilly Isles. Who even knew they were at war - or that the Scilly Isles might have the means of making war? In fact, it was the longest war in the entirety of human history, a conflict that positively erupted on March 30th 1651, and went on, unbroken, unresolved, unremarked, and unbloody, fully 335 years, until somebody in Holland thought it might be a good idea to end the silly nonsense... click here to read about it.




Wouldn't it be so much more interesting and exciting if we gave our kids world history in school, instead of the narrow parochialisms of "the history of those who have ruled our little tiny realm, their wars, their marriages, their occasional reforms", which is all that most countries on planet Earth can manage.


The illustration at the top of the page has Hatshepsut upper left, Mbande Nzinga upper right, 
Nur Jahan lower left, and Queen Seondeok of Korea lower right

April 14


Amber pages:

Today in 1629, Christian Huygens, Dutch physicist and astronomer, discovered Saturn's rings.


Today in 1861, Fort Sumter surrendered to the Confederacy - the event which triggered the Amrican Civil War, and which is recorded in detail in my essay "Running Wild in Charleston", in "Travels In Familiar Lands".


Today in 1865, Abraham Lincoln was assassinated by John Wilkes Booth.



Today in 1912, at 11:40 pm, the Titanic struck an iceberg. It sank the following day at 2:27 am, taking 1,517 people down with it - amongst them, the most famous of the dead that day, Ida and Isidor Straus - for whom see December 23.





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April 12


Amber pages


The Fourth Crusade sacked Constantinople, today in 
1204

I am including this date, this event, because the broad subject is interesting, and that war between the three faiths, over Jerusalem but over more than just Jerusalem, is the active daily tale of all our lives, multi-dimensionally, today. But why this specific? On what date did the Third Crusade, or the Second, the First - was there a Fifth? - begin, end, sack, retreat? And did they actually do anything else but sack? I am struggling to determine how, and why, let alone where, or when, to place my focus. So there is the gap between the personal and the universal. So there is a need for bridges.


And between the personal and the universal inside the event as well.  Today, for example, in 
1961: a spaceship was launched, which took the very first human ever out of Earth's atmosphere. A momentous occasion for the human race, of universal significance. 
   Then does it matter that the spaceship was named Vostok 1, that it happened to be launched out of the USSR, that the human happened to be male, rather than female, that he was named Yuri Alexseyevich Gagarin?




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April 5


Amber pages:


The personal history requires this first: the tragically youthful death of the man for whom I am first-named, Grandpa Dov, or Dovid, or David on his English gravestone, today in 1933.



Sometimes historical dates are small and narrow, at others universal:


2348 BCE: Noah's Ark grounded... or "mountained", to be geographically precise. And speaking of precision, this is self-evidently another of those "how do they know?" moments, and one for which 2348 BCE will ultimately shown to be out by - about 12 billion years, at current scientific estimation. There never was a physical Ark; like Phaeton's and Helios' Chariot, Noah's tale is a mythological (primordial-scientific) account of the journey of the sun across the elemental waters of the sky, a Babylonian Creation myth, with the breaking of the waters as a distinctly female fertility metaphor - so shouldn't this be on April 1st anyway, the first day of the newly created year?
   Probably it was - but moved four days, with the inception of the Gregorian calendar.


347 BCE: Aristocles of Athens, who you will know better by his other name, Plato - "flat-head" - born on May 21 427 BCE, died today, probably of sitting still too long and not getting enough exercise - the key difference between the two schools of education, and the reason why certain types of teacher needed the invention of ADHD, because the Platonic and the Aristotelian are incapable of co-existing in the same classroom - as Aristotle himself discovered, and left Plato's school to found his own, where he taught, among other ADHD students, Alexander of Macedon...


Thomas Hobbes, the Leviathan of English philosophers, born today in 1588. Leviathan is the abbreviated title; in full it was "Leviathan, or The Matter, Forme and Power of a Common-Wealth Ecclesiasticall and Civil", and it should be required reading for anyone entering any form of Parliament or Council in a country that wishes to be regarded as properly democratic. Its author "rigorously argues that civil peace and social unity are best achieved by the establishment of a commonwealth through social contract", and that is neither Marx nor Engels summarising him, but Sparknotes.


Pocahontas (a.k.a. Matoaka, a.k.a. Rebecca) married John Rolfe,
in Virginia, today in 
1614


The first use of postage stamps, in Paris, today in 1653... was this the first anywhere? If not, not interesting enough to write about. If not, where was the first, and when?


A proposal to create a Central Park in New York was proposed, today in 1851 (why am I writing about a proposal, and not its formal opening, once approved and established?)


Anne Sullivan taught Helen Keller the meaning of the word "water", today in 1887, spelling it out in their literally manual alphabet (as with the postage stamp; was that her very first word? if not...) A full account of these two extraordianry women can be found in my novel "A Journey In Time".


Oscar Wilde was arrested, and charged in connection with his intimate
relationship with Lord Alfred Douglas, today in 1895 (but this too is surely the wrong date: the arrest isn't the significant part; it's the sentencing... the poem that he wrote in Reading Gaol... his incarnation as Nathaniel in "Les Nourritures Terrestres", the key influence on Gide in Paris later...)


Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were sentenced to death for stealing atomic secrets, today in 1951 (which is mostly interesting because almost all the Los Alamos scientists were Germans and Russians bought in, or defected in, or brought in, so the Yanks could get there first...)



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April 9


Amber pages



Charles Baudelaire, French poet, born today in 
1821; click here for my piece about him in "Private Collection"


Paul Robeson, actor and singer, born today in 1898


Tom Lehrer, singing satirist and Harvard Math professor, born today in 
1928


and two historic dates, the first of which is meaningless to me, though I have heard it mentioned many times - so why not take the opportunity to flesh it out, or even try to make a silk purse out of it: today, in 1731, Robert Jenkins' ear was cut off, leading to the "War of Jenkins' Ear"...


the second, today, in 1865, Robert E. Lee (what does the E. stand for; and who was the first American to give such importance to the initial letter of the middle name?) surrendered to General whatever-he-was-called Grant (that is a very subtle, multi-lingual, Homeric and Joyceian jest; please send your solutions anonymously to DavidHPrashker @polyphemus.net), ending the military hostilities part of the American Civil War (almanacs tell me it happened at 1:30 pm, but which time zone was that? as far as I can tell the non-military hostilities are still on-going, in several states of the USA).





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April 4

1968 

On the balcony of the Motel Lorraine

Martin Luther King Jr, civil rights leader, killed today in 1968. 

There is an interesting take on this story, written at the time of its 50th anniversary, in Russia Today. Click here)




Amber pages:



Today, in 1896, the Yukon Gold Rush began... the northern branch of the California Gold Rush, which then grew into the Great San Francisco Grape Fraud, and is still continuing today, on blank walls in cyberspace filled up with advertising, in Silicone Enhancement Valley...


Marguerite Duras, French author, born today in 1914


Marguerite Annie Johnson (Maya Angelou sounds so much more... authorial?  authoritative? authorised?), born today in 1928 ... (click here for a surprising Ghana connection)


NATO established, today in 1949. The twelve countries that formed the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation were Belgium, Britain, Canada, Denmark, France, Iceland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal and the United States. Since then it has grown to twenty-nine, Greece and Turkey joining in 1952, Germany in 1955, Spain in 1982, the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland in 1999, Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia in 2004, Albania and Croatia in 2009, and Montenegro in 2017.


The first artificial heart transplant was performed, today in 1969, in Houston, Texas, by Dr. Denton Cooley. You thought this was done by Christian Barnard? But that was the transplant of an authentic human heart, sixteen months earlier, in South Africa (see December 3). This one was artificial, and the recipient was one Haskell Karp, aged 47, from Skokie, Illinois. It lasted 16 hours, then failed, after which a donor was found with a real heart and that was transplanted in its place. It last 32 hours.
   And just to add one more name to my list of Sherpa Ten-Zings, Dr. Michael E. DeBakey probably ought to get a mention too. To read about the way Sir Edmund Cooley effectively pushed Sherpa DeBakey off the summit of Mount Transplant, click here


And finally, irresistibly, this (my cartoon, much fun making it(:

That's a Z on a triple-letter + ... no, you can't get to 1993

What did he invent? Here are your letters - LBABRCES - work it out!





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April 3


Amber pages


Jesse Woodson James shot Robert Ford, today in 
1882 - click here for some of my very favouritest ever gravestones, including one related to this event


F. Scott Fitzgerald married Zelda Sayre, today in 1920


And today in 1966, the Soviet Luna 10 became the first spacecraft to orbit the moon.





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April 2


Amber pages


Today in 742, the birthdate of Charlemagne, King of the Franks and the Lombards, though some historians insist that the day is correct, but not the year - 743 the antagonist. Crowned as Holy Roman Emperor by Pope Leo III on December 25th 800.


Uncertainty about this date too: Giovanni Casanova, Italian adventurer and lover, born, most likely today, and definitely in 1725. Giovanni Casanova... a splendidly Romantic sounding name, don't you think, perfect for a Byronesque life of ceaseless womanising. In Italian anyway. In English it would translate into the very dull John Newhouse, no good for Byron, no good for Dickens, we can hadly imagine him interesting Jane Eyre or any of the Bennet sisters...

And how would it translate into French? Jean de Nouvelle-Maison might make it work for Victor Hugo - imagine him on the barricades with 
Jean Valjean, demanding brand-new homes for every working man and woman. And definitely a candidate for one of Emile Zola's Rougon-Macquart novels - Zola was born today in 1840: Emile Edouard Charles Antoine Zola, to give him his full due... but I have mentions of him, and a longer piece about Hugo, elsewhere - click here, and here, and here, and here as well.


Speaking of brigandry and other forms of immoral behaviour, the rape of the Americas was rather more Oldcastle than Newhouse, or Vieja Castilia in the Spanish. 

Today, in 1513, Florida was discovered by Juan Ponce de Leon (that man of Casteel, dare I mispronounce him?). 


And finally, though it reflects the same epoch of illegal conquest, today in 1982 troops from Argentina stormed Las Malvinas - I am putting it on this date, rather than going for "April 26, 1982: Argentine troops surrendered to the British on the Falkland Islands", because I feel rather more loyalty to Morality than I do to Great Britain... and the truth is, like the Elgin Marbles and Gibraltar and Northern Ireland and a great deal more of the old empire, this should have been handed back to its rightful owners, and with reparations, decades ago, without needing a war to try to achieve it...




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March 4


Amber pages


Cortez landed in Mexico, today in 
1519. A link to Neil Young's song in the interim? - why not: click here. And this too - though this is about Columbus' arrival in Hispaniola.


Gogol became a dead soul, today in 
1852. Actually, he already was, though whether in Pushkin's sense of the "dissolute" or Nabokov's "poshlost"... 




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March 31


Amber pages



The Tour d'Eiffel was inaugurated, today in 1889 - and is that, or am I imagining it, a deliberate shadow of the Eiffel Tower, along the spine and surface of the new World Trade Tower, Freedom Tower in New York? It would make a splendid homage if it is deliberate - Eiffel was one of the designers of the Statue of Liberty (see December 15)


1990: The Battle of Trafalgar Square that brought down Maggie Thatcher (see June 15) - not to be confused with the Battle of Trafalgar on October 21st 1805, which gave its name to the Square and is the reason why Admiral Nelson has a statue there. This was the Peasant's Revolt revisited, though the modern one had rather more men in suits than farm labourer clothing - for more on both, see June 15


The Warsaw pact was formally dissolved, today in 1991. Another GER to add to the long, long list.


But there is usually a positive to set against the negative, somewhere in the human realm. Today, March 31st, 1781 William Herschel gazed through his telescope, and discovered Uranus (though some almanacs insist it was on the 13th). Can someone tell me why we use the Latin rather than the Greek name, why it is Uranus, and not Ouranos?





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March 23


Amber pages


What an absolutely splendid headline:

"Messiah premieres in London", today in 1743!

Handel's "Messiah" I presume, or maybe it was the real thing, himself - I think that should be capitalised: Himself - making his first appearance in a pulpit since the last time he was in shul, or Temple anyway - was it not his lambasting of the unethical capitalists who were running their flea-market in its very courtyard, rather than anything theological, that caused the last straw to break the camel's back and him to have the authorities come down on his forehead with a hedge fund and a Ponzi scheme of their own?



Or is that take on history too non-conformist for you, too much of a challenge to your traditional position; too Dadaist even. But appropriate: the Dada manifesto was published today in 1918... written on July 14, 1916 by Hugo Ball and read the same day at the Waag Hall in Zurich, for the first public Dada party.

read it here


Can you get more traditional than the work of William Morris, born today in 1834?


And then, today in 1940: the All-India-Muslim league adopted a Muslim homeland resolution; and sixteen years later, in 1956, presumably choosing this date for that reason, Pakistan declared itself a republic.
   (Shall I do this as an essay on the stupidity of the 2-state solution?Pakistan was anyway three from the outset, the West Bank around Lahore, the Gaza Strip on the Bay of Bengal, and the regional superpower keeping the two apart, while being itself the third part of the equation. A recipe for war.)




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