Tuesday, April 13, 2010

"Let's Stay Together" by Al Green

Birthday wishes go out today to Al Green, purveyor of much smooth soul music over the years, including this classic - Let's Stay Together, which was later covered with much success by Tina Turner. While a horrifying incident in October 1974* caused him to become essentially born-again - effectively halting his recording career - he emerged from semi-retirement** in 1988, and in 1995 was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

*After refusing to marry his girlfriend, Mary Woodson White - who, it must be stated, was herself already married - she poured a pan of hot grits on him, giving Green third-degree burns on his back, stomach, and arms. She then proceeded to commit suicide in his home.
**During which time he'd served as pastor at the
Full Gospel Tabernacle
in Memphis and recorded mainly gospel music.
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Remembering... Madalyn Murray O'Hair

For attempting to secure the separation of church and state in the US - thanks to the legal action of Murray v. Curlett - Madalyn Murray O'Hair (born on this day in 1919) became known as 'the most hated woman in America'.

PhotobucketAs with many odd stories, it all started in Baltimore... Her son Bill refused to take part in classroom Bible readings and found himself the victim of schoolyard violence because of it. Since that's what Jesus would have done. The case went all the way to the Supreme Court, and to give one a sense of how the country has changed since 1963 the highest court in the land found 8-1 in her favour, effectively throwing prayer out of public schools.

Following O'Hair's victory she founded the group American Atheists; for years employed as a psychiatric social worker, she also lectured on birth control, and throughout the 1970s and 1980s gave several high profile interviews relating details of threatening mail she'd received, stonings of her house, and even the killings of her children's pets. Since that's what Jesus would have done. Most famously she was the first-ever guest on The Phil Donahue Show in November 1967, when it was still being syndicated out of Dayton, Ohio.

In 1980 William J. Murray - the very same Bill for whom O'Hair had gone to all the trouble - became a born-again Christian, at which time his mother disowned him; at the time she likened it to a 'postnatal abortion'. Her opinion of him is kind and caring compared to his opinion of her; the picture he paints makes her out to be no better than a televangelist, only serving herself instead of pretending to serve some version of God or other.

In August 1995 Madalyn Murray O'Hair, her son Garth, and her son Bill's daughter Robin (whom O'Hair had legally adopted, making Robin her daughter and granddaughter) disappeared; leaving only a note indicating they'd been called away on business, they seemingly vanished. Over the years theories abounded, from kidnapping and murder to embezzlement and exile; if alive, they were expected to be living in New Zealand, based on research done for the American magazine Vanity Fair and published in March 1997. It later turned out that O'Hair, her son, and her granddaughter (as well as an accomplice named Danny Fry) had been murdered in September 1995 by their former employee, David Roland Waters, who himself died of lung cancer in January 2003 while in federal custody.

A play about these events, entitled The Last Days of Madalyn Murray O'Hair in Exile was written by Dave Foley of The Kids in the Hall.

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Pop History Moment: Poitier Earns Oscar Gold

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketAt the 36th Academy Awards - handed out on this day in 1964 - Sidney Poitier became the first black man to win a Best Actor Oscar for his role in the film Lilies of the Field. The ceremony gave white liberals - still reeling from the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in November 1963 - the chance to make it look like they were doing something for the nation's blacks. Said Poitier to the New York Times, 'I'd like to think [my winning] will help someone, but I don't believe my Oscar will be a sort of magic wand that will wipe away restrictions on job opportunities for Negro actors.'

In 1939 Hattie McDaniel became Oscar's first black alumnus when she won Best Supporting Actress for Gone With the Wind; after Poitier's win the next (at least among actors) would be a Best Supporting Actor trophy for Louis Gossett, Jr. in 1982's An Officer and a Gentleman.
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Adams vs. Jefferson: The 1800 Election Gets Personal

I found this bit of whimsy while researching the previous piece; it concerns the 1800 election and some of the claims made by the Federalists (looking to reelect President John Adams) against the Democratic-Republican Party candidate Thomas Jefferson.

You know, just to show you that nothing really changes except clothes and hairstyles.

SPOILER ALERT: Owing to a glitch in the Constitution, regarding the Electoral College, there was a tie between Jefferson and Aaron Burr over which should be President and which should be Vice-President. Most of the Federalist Congress favoured Burr; after a week of squabbling the tie was broken by Alexander Hamilton, in Jefferson's favour. This vote was one of the factors involved in the July 1804 duel between Burr and Hamilton which cost the former his career and the latter his life. The Twelfth Amendment was later passed to clear up this conundrum.
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In Memoriam: Thomas Jefferson

Few presidential legacies are as troubled as that of Thomas Jefferson; on one hand he was the principal author of the Declaration of Independence which famously declared that 'all men are created equal', on the other he was a holder of slaves. One of only two people* to date to hold the so-called Triple Crown - having served as President, Vice-President, and Secretary of State - as well as doubling the size of the country thanks to the Louisiana Purchase and providing for its exploration by the Lewis and Clark Expedition, recent evidence that he may have fathered children with his slave Sally Hemings points to a snarl of hypocrisy and ambivalence at the centre of an otherwise elegantly wired mind.

PhotobucketBorn on this day in 1743 to a prominent Virginia family, Jefferson inherited the estate that would become Monticello when he was 14. At sixteen he entered The College of William & Mary, earning highest honours upon his graduation just two years later. While at university he was a member of the Flat Hat Club, a secret society that was not unlike a fraternity, except that their meetings tended to involve philosophical discussions rather than binge drinking.

In 1772 Jefferson married his distant cousin, the 23-year-old widow Martha Wayles Skelton; during the decade of their marriage she bore him six children - Martha Jefferson Randolph (1772–1836), Jane Randolph (1774–1775), a stillborn or unnamed son (1777), Mary Wayles (1778–1804), Lucy Elizabeth (1780–1781), and Elizabeth (1782–1785) - dying after the birth of the last. She had also had a son from her previous marriage who died at the time of her engagement to Jefferson. After his wife's death he never remarried and in fact persisted during the earliest years of his political triumph both as governor of Virginia and Founding Father despite suffering from a deep depression.

Jefferson's method for overcoming his grief seems to have involved becoming a workaholic; although this tendency first asserted itself at a young age, it would remain constant throughout his life. An active role in politics from the early days of his marriage led to his appointment to the Continental Congress as a representative of the Commonwealth of Virginia, then to his service as governor of Virginia, and thence his appointment as Minister to France (thanks to which he missed such highlights of the American Revolution as the Philadelphia Convention) although he seems to have consoled himself by having an affair with the married artist Maria Cosway while there.

He returned to the US to serve as the country's first Secretary of State under George Washington, during which time he sparred with Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton over fiscal policy, a clash between two polymathic geniuses that alas wouldn't be likely to occur in the modern-day District of Columbia. Between 1793 and 1796 Jefferson was out of office, during which time he cared for his estate and wrote. Despite Washington's urging to the contrary, political parties began to form at this time; the country's long descent into divisive partisanship had its beginnings as long ago as that, with Alexander Hamilton and his flunky Vice-President Adams representing the Federalists, Jefferson and his successor James Madison the Democratic-Republican Party. Jefferson is also considered the father of American exceptionalism, a way of thinking that was entirely valid in the days when the country was young, but which becomes less so with each passing year.

In 1796 Jefferson became Vice-President to John Adams, and following the disputatious 1800 election was appointed President by Congress (at about the same time Rembrandt Peale painted the portrait of him, shown above). For his first Vice-President Jefferson chose Aaron Burr; following the duel at which Burr fatally wounded Alexander Hamilton, he was dropped in favour of George Clinton.

Jefferson's presidency was the first to begin and end in the White House (then called the Presidential or Executive Mansion) and was concerned principally with defending the fledgling nation from British and French incursions against its sovereignty, as well as with expansionism and exploration. Jefferson favoured small government, considering it the basis of freedom.

Following his retirement, Jefferson went on to found - as well as design and execute - the University of Virginia, one of the first with a campus centered on a library rather than a church, in keeping with his deeply held faith in the separation of church and state; in fact, his original designs made no accommodation whatsoever for a chapel. Following the burning of the Library of Congress by the British in August 1814, Jefferson offered his personal holdings (some 6,487 books) to begin rebuilding it, for which he was paid $23,950.

Thomas Jefferson died on the Fourth of July 1826, fifty years to the day after his Declaration of Independence was adopted; he is buried at Monticello and commemorated throughout the United States in place names, on Mount Rushmore, and within the nation's capital itself**. Likewise his portrait adorns the little used US $2 bill and the nickel. He's also been portrayed on the silver screen by Nick Nolte (an improbable bit of casting) in the 1995 film Jefferson in Paris by James Ivory, a heavily fictionalized account.

*The other was Martin Van Buren.
**300 years after leaving office Thomas Jefferson and his legacy are still making news; references to the 3rd president have been struck from Texas school books, a move expected to see him removed from the curricula across the country.

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POPnews - April 13th

[Designed by John Russell Pope and built by John McShain on a commanding site in West Potomac Park, construction on the Jefferson Memorial began in December 1938 (and was completed by the architectural firm of Eggers & Higgins amid some controversy following Pope's death); the main sculptor was Rudulph Evans, with Adolph A. Weinman selected to sculpt the pediment relief above the entrance. The bronze statue of Thomas Jefferson it contains - also by Evans - was added in 1947. Jefferson wasn't the first choice for a memorial on the site, however. As early as 1901 the McMillan Commission had proposed a similar structure to house numerous sculptures of the nation's most illustrious men; nothing came of that plan, nor of a memorial - proposed in 1925 - to honour the recently deceased Theodore Roosevelt. It was another Roosevelt, FDR, who consulted with the Commission of Fine Arts in 1934 about erecting the colossal shrine to his idol, which stands today amidst thousands of sakura donated to the United States by Japan in both 1912 and 1965.]

1111 - Henry V was crowned Holy Roman Emperor by Pope Paschal II at St. Peter's Basilica.

1598 - France's King Henri IV issued the Edict of Nantes, allowing freedom of religion to the country's minority Protestant Huguenots and ending the French Wars of Religion.

1742 - George Frideric Handel's oratorio Messiah premiered at the Music Hall in Dublin.

1861 - At the outset of the American Civil War, Fort Sumter surrendered to Confederate forces following a 33-hour siege.

1868 - The Abyssinian War ended as British and Indian troops under Robert Napier captured Magdala from forces loyal to Emperor Tewodros II, who committed suicide as his fortress was taken.

1870 - New York City's Metropolitan Museum of Art was founded; its doors opened in February 1872, with the core of its collection donated by railroad tycoon John Taylor Johnston.

1873 - The Colfax Massacre took place in Colfax, Louisiana; more than a hundred black men were killed by white supremacists belonging to groups such as the White League while attempting to vote.

1919 - At the Jallianwala Bagh Massacre British troops shot and killed at least 379 unarmed demonstrators in Amritsar.

1921 - The Spanish Communist Workers' Party was founded.

1939 - India's Hindustani Lal Sena (Indian Red Army) was formed on the twentieth anniversary of the Jallianwala Bagh massacre, vowing to engage in armed struggle against the British.

1943 - The Jefferson Memorial was dedicated in Washington, DC, on the 200th anniversary of Thomas Jefferson's birth.

1948 - A British soldier and 79 Jewish doctors, nurses, and medical students from Hadassah Hospital on Mount Scopus were massacred by Arabs in Sheikh Jarra, near Jerusalem, when their convoy of two Haganah escort cars, two ambulances and two buses were attacked. So badly burnt were the bodies that only 31 of them could be identified; the rest were buried in a mass grave at Sanhedria Cemetery. The attack was said to have been ordered by Abdul Kader Husseini in retaliation for the Deir Yassin Massacre.

1953 - CIA director Allen Dulles launched a mind-control program known as MKULTRA.

1969 - Brisbane's tramway network closed, likely because some oil company executive managed to buy himself a local politician or two; all trams were then replaced by - surprise! - diesel buses.

1970 - An oxygen tank aboard Apollo 13 exploded, putting the crew into deadly peril, as dramatized in Ron Howard's 1995 film Apollo 13 as well as 1974's Houston, We've Got a Problem.

1974 - Western Union (in cooperation with NASA and Hughes Aircraft) launched America's first commercial geosynchronous communications satellite, Westar 1.

1975 - An attack by Lebanon's Phalangist resistance resulted in the so-called Bus Massacre, in which 26 members of Palestine's P.F.L. were killed, marking the start of the 15-year Lebanese Civil War.

1976 - The US Treasury Department reintroduced the two-dollar bill as a Federal Reserve Note on Thomas Jefferson's 233rd birthday as part of the United States Bicentennial celebration.

1992 - The Great Chicago Flood occurred when the damaged wall of a utility tunnel beneath the Chicago River opened into a breach which flooded basements and underground facilities throughout the Chicago Loop with an estimated 250 million gallons of water.

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