Thursday, October 21, 2010

Brian Tobin: Rebel Without A Cod

Born on this day in 1954, and first elected to Canada's Parliament in 1980, Brian Tobin was one of the few Liberals who survived Brian Mulroney's Tory landslide of 1984; alongside his colleagues from Ontario - Don Boudria, John Nunziata, and Sheila Copps - the MP for Humber—Port au Port—Ste. Barbe helped form what the Ottawa press corps quickly dubbed the Rat Pack, which during the next nine years on the Opposition Bench gave the government what-for in an altogether unprecedented way.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketWhen the Liberals were returned to power in 1993 under Jean Chrétien, Tobin's previous loyalty to his new boss was rewarded; he was given the plum job of Minister of Fisheries and Oceans, which anyway is practically a Newfoundland sinecure. It was during his tenure at DFO that Brian Tobin had his finest hour (to date): the Turbot War.

Following a moratorium on fishing which devastated the Newfoundland economy, it was discovered that factory trawlers from Europe operating just outside Canada's 200-mile limit were vacuuming the ocean clean of all life, therefore potentially extincting such staple catches as cod and halibut from the Grand Banks, an area that was still prime fishing ground as recently as the 1970s. The source of the devastation having been determined, Tobin decided to make something of it; he had the Canadian Coast Guard trail a Spanish stern-trawler called the Estai which was suspected of just such illegal activity. In March 1996 shots were fired, the Estai was boarded, its crew arrested and its nets impounded.

The Estai had indeed been using illegal gill nets, which Tobin himself demonstrated during a press conference held on a barge in the East River near the UN, much to the chagrin of the Spanish and EU trade representatives like Emma Bonino. Accused of grandstanding by the timid do-nothings who'd been letting it happen, Tobin used the notoriety he'd gained during the incident to propel himself into the office of Premier of Newfoundland. In 2000 he returned again to federal politics, this time representing Bonavista—Trinity—Conception; disgusted, as many of us were, by the seemingly endless machinations of Paul Martin, Tobin retired from politics in 2002.

Still I, for one, am not counting him out; his memoirs are entitled All In Good Time, implying that the man once dubbed 'Captain Canada' may yet return to public life...
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"The Temptation Of Adam" by Josh Ritter

Birthday wishes go out today to folkie Josh Ritter, who was born on this day in 1976; The Temptation of Adam appears on his fifth studio album, The Historical Conquests of Josh Ritter, released in 2007.

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Happy Birthday Joyce Randolph

Consider, if you will, the plight of Joyce Randolph...

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketFourth billed and forced to play third fiddle behind a booming tuba, a shrill harp, and a bassoon (or is that baboon? or maybe it's buffoon?) Joyce Randolph had the most thankless job on The Honeymooners. Most episodes she's lucky if Trixie gets one scene.

Nevertheless, she did get to play a part in one of the television era's first pop culture sensations. Not that she's the only person to play Trixie Norton - oh no; I've only just learned that Trixie was first played by Elaine Stritch, which about blows my mind.

Today the one-time Garbo of Detroit turns 86; long-retired from acting but not from performing, she currently serves of the board of the USO.
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Edna Purviance: Lady and A Tramp

Over the course of eight years - from 1915 to 1923 - she starred in 33 films with Charlie Chaplin; for the first two of those years, they were lovers, and she was in the background.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketA talented pianist - born on this day in 1895 - Edna Purviance was at first thought to be too serious for comedy; in the end it was her gravity which gave Chaplin's famed character of The Tramp something suitably durable against which to play his ineffable whimsy.

She would prove to be his best leading lady.

Although she starred in 33 films with Charlie Chaplin, Edna Purviance has yet to be recognized by the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce with a star on the Walk of Fame. There is a petition here and on Facebook to correct this grievous injustice.

If you have a moment, won't you please sign them for yourself?

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The Death of Horatio Nelson

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So beloved and revered a figure was Vice Admiral Horatio Nelson in his day that even more than 200 years after his death he is still being lionized as one of the greatest Britons to have ever lived. In life he was known for his ability to inspire men against long odds, and in death is fondly remembered in sailor's lore and cultural zeitgeist alike for the kindness and compassion he displayed while in command.

Which just goes to show you, you can carry on the most scandalous kind of private life imaginable provided you are really good at what you do (and it never hurts to be a nice guy as well). In Nelson's case scandal involved leaving his wife Fanny - the unlovely Lady Nelson (with whom he had no children) - to live together with Lady Emma Hamilton, a notable beauty of her day with whom he had a daughter, Horatia.

As a tactician and field commander Nelson was without match. His ability to change strategy mid-battle and willingness to disobey orders to do so was very much the opposite of what was expected of him, yet it was tactics like these that had brought him much glory at the Battle of the Nile, the Battle of Copenhagen, and finally his greatest victory at the Battle of Trafalgar.

Having lost the sight in his left eye in 1794 off of Corsica in the service of the Kingdom of Naples, and his right arm at the Battle of Santa Cruz de Tenerife in 1797, Nelson lost his life at Trafalgar on this day in 1805.

After running the most famous array of signal flags in British naval history up the mizzenmast of HMS Victory - England expects that every man will do his duty - he ordered an attack on the French flagship Bucentaure, damaging it badly enough to take it out of commission; then it was onto Redoutable. A bullet from a unknown French marksman in the riggings found its target, at a range of about 50 feet, and four hours later a great man was dead...

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Jack Kerouac Reads From "On The Road"

It is a voice simultaneously mannered and casual, confident that it ought to be spoken...  Here's Jack Kerouac, reading from his masterpiece On the Road, accompanied by Steve Allen on piano, and they're both on the top of their game. The year is 1959.

Just a decade later he'd reached the end of the road; on this day in 1969, in St. Petersburg, Florida, hemorrhaging from a cirrhotic liver, Jack Kerouac died.
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"Frost at Midnight" by Samuel Taylor Coleridge

The Frost performs its secret ministry,
Unhelped by any wind. The owlet's cry
Came loud--and hark, again ! loud as before.
The inmates of my cottage, all at rest,
Have left me to that solitude, which suits
Abstruser musings : save that at my side
My cradled infant slumbers peacefully.
'Tis calm indeed ! so calm, that it disturbs
And vexes meditation with its strange
And extreme silentness. Sea, hill, and wood,
This populous village ! Sea, and hill, and wood,
With all the numberless goings-on of life,
Inaudible as dreams ! the thin blue flame
Lies on my low-burnt fire, and quivers not ;
Only that film, which fluttered on the grate,
Still flutters there, the sole unquiet thing.
Methinks, its motion in this hush of nature
Gives it dim sympathies with me who live,
Making it a companionable form,
Whose puny flaps and freaks the idling Spirit
By its own moods interprets, every where
Echo or mirror seeking of itself,
And makes a toy of Thought.

But O ! how oft,
How oft, at school, with most believing mind,
Presageful, have I gazed upon the bars,
To watch that fluttering stranger ! and as oft
With unclosed lids, already had I dreamt
Of my sweet birth-place, and the old church-tower,
Whose bells, the poor man's only music, rang
From morn to evening, all the hot Fair-day,
So sweetly, that they stirred and haunted me
With a wild pleasure, falling on mine ear
Most like articulate sounds of things to come !
So gazed I, till the soothing things, I dreamt,
Lulled me to sleep, and sleep prolonged my dreams !
And so I brooded all the following morn,
Awed by the stern preceptor's face, mine eye
Fixed with mock study on my swimming book :
Save if the door half opened, and I snatched
A hasty glance, and still my heart leaped up,
For still I hoped to see the stranger's face,
Townsman, or aunt, or sister more beloved,
My play-mate when we both were clothed alike !

Dear Babe, that sleepest cradled by my side,
Whose gentle breathings, heard in this deep calm,
Fill up the interspersed vacancies
And momentary pauses of the thought !
My babe so beautiful ! it thrills my heart
With tender gladness, thus to look at thee,
And think that thou shalt learn far other lore,
And in far other scenes ! For I was reared
In the great city, pent 'mid cloisters dim,
And saw nought lovely but the sky and stars.
But thou, my babe ! shalt wander like a breeze
By lakes and sandy shores, beneath the crags
Of ancient mountain, and beneath the clouds,
Which image in their bulk both lakes and shores
And mountain crags : so shalt thou see and hear
The lovely shapes and sounds intelligible
Of that eternal language, which thy God
Utters, who from eternity doth teach
Himself in all, and all things in himself.
Great universal Teacher ! he shall mould
Thy spirit, and by giving make it ask.

Therefore all seasons shall be sweet to thee,
Whether the summer clothe the general earth
With greenness, or the redbreast sit and sing
Betwixt the tufts of snow on the bare branch
Of mossy apple-tree, while the nigh thatch
Smokes in the sun-thaw ; whether the eave-drops fall
Heard only in the trances of the blast,
Or if the secret ministry of frost
Shall hang them up in silent icicles,
Quietly shining to the quiet Moon.

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Remembering... Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Both the youngest and the favourite of 14 children, Samuel Taylor Coleridge (born on this day in 1772) took refuge in the place many bullied children do - the library; when not ensconced in a book he could be found rambling the Devonshire countryside, communing with Nature around Ottery St Mary where he was born.

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At the age of 23 Coleridge hatched a plan with his fellow poet Robert Southey to move to America and start a commune in the wilds of Pennsylvania; although the plan failed before it could be brought to fruition, the friends did end up marrying a pair of sisters out of it. In this endeavour Southey seems to have made the better match, whereas Coleridge merely added a failed marriage and divorce to the list of his woes.

Alongside his friend William Wordsworth*, Coleridge founded the Romantic movement of poetry, which rooted itself in the classics, and concerned itself with experiencing the joys of Nature amidst a booming industrial expansion already blackening much of Britain by the time he was a young man.

Due to a well-documented battle with toothache and facial neuralgia, Coleridge sought relief in opium as early as age 26, blissfully unaware as everyone around him was of the addictive qualities of the poppy. Although credited with giving his work its ethereal imagery, opium was to be the death of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, who died in the home of his physician, James Gillman, in the Highgate section of London in July 1834. He was 61.

*About which camaraderie Adam Sisman has written The Friendship: Wordsworth and Coleridge - available at all fine links immediately preceding this statement and in the collection of the Pop Culture Institute, natch...
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"Oye Como Va" by Celia Cruz

No, it's not a Spanish song about Donald Trump; that one's called Oye Como Ver*.

It's actually Celia Cruz, Cuba's late-lamented Queen of Salsa, who died in July 2003; in her homeland she's still known as La guarachera de Cuba... Today would have been her 85th birthday.

Oye Como Va was written by Tito Puente in 1963, and has since been widely covered, including a more famous version by Santana, from their 1970 album Abraxas.

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Happy Birthday Carrie Fisher

Although her first film appearance was in Shampoo (1975), five-year-old me was not the slightest bit interested in subtle comedy-dramas based in recent current events...

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket7 year-old me, however, was captivated by loud movies filled with space ships, princesses in distress, and wise-cracking robots; lucky me, that was the year Star Wars came out. Ever since then there's been a warm place in my heart for Carrie Fisher...

Even though she writes far more than she acts these days she still turns up occasionally onscreen; I remember a particularly hilarious moment when Carrie Bradshaw (of Sex and the City) met Carrie Fisher during a fling with Vince Vaughan, who was playing Fisher's assistant in a classic episode from 2000 entitled Sex and Another City - and Fisher thought she was a hooker! Oh my... I laughed until I stopped.

Fisher also turned up - again unexpectedly - in Stephen Fry's amazing 2006 documentary The Secret Life of the Manic-Depressive, in which she discusses the challenges she's faced achieving mental wellness. Of course, her novels have consistently addressed the difficulty of growing up (not to mention staying sane) in LA, a subject about which she is circumspect without placing blame - a refreshing position for the spawn of entertainers to take.
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POPnews - October 21st

[Frank Lloyd Wright's only New York Building was also his last commissioned work; the struggles involved in getting his design from the drawing board to the corner of Fifth Avenue and E. 89th Street are legendary, not least of which was challenging the orthodoxy of concrete boxes which were then the prevailing norm in Manhattan architecture.]

1600 - Tokugawa Ieyasu defeated the leaders of rival Japanese clans at the Battle of Sekigahara, marking the beginning of the Tokugawa shogunate, which would rule Japan until the mid-nineteenth century.

1797 - The 44-gun US Navy frigate USS Constitution was launched at Edmund Hartt's shipyard in Boston Harbor; named by US President George Washington and one of six authorized by the Naval Act of 1794, she is today the oldest commissioned vessel afloat in the world.

1805 - At the Battle of Trafalgar, the Royal Navy defeated a combined French and Spanish fleet under Admiral Pierre-Charles Villeneuve; in striking at the heart of Napoleon Bonaparte's ambitions for the domination of Europe, Viscount Horatio Nelson inspired a burgeoning British Empire too fond of boats to have designs on European soil.

1816 - The Penang Free School - the oldest English-language school in Southeast Asia - was founded in George Town by the Reverend Sparke Hutchings.

1854 - Florence Nightingale and a staff of 38 nurses were despatched to the Crimean War...  Although Nightingale's mission of mercy would prove a disaster - troops consigned to her field hospital at Scutari faced higher than normal mortality rates due mainly to the lack of hygiene - in her later years she learned much from the ordeal, and modern nursing would not exist in the form it does today were it not for her pioneering work.

1867 - The landmark Medicine Lodge Treaty was signed near the Kansas town of Medicine Lodge by leaders of Kiowa and Comanche nations, requiring them to relocate to a reservation in western Oklahoma. Another, with the Plains Apache, was signed later that day, while a third a week later sealed the Fates of the Southern Cheyenne, and Southern Arapaho.

1892 - Opening ceremonies for the World's Columbian Exposition were held in Chicago, though because construction was behind schedule, the exposition did not open until May 1893.

1895 - The short-lived Republic of Formosa collapsed as Japanese forces invaded the island now called Taiwan.

1921 - President Warren G. Harding delivered a speech which called for the abolition of lynching, apparently.

1944 - The first kamikaze attack was carried out when HMAS Australia was hit by a Japanese plane carrying a 200 kg (441 pound) bomb off Leyte Island, as the Battle of Leyte Gulf began.

1945 - Future tinpot dictator and flabby Argentinian strongman Juan Perón discovered what the term 'better half' meant when he married erstwhile actress Eva Duarte, a charisma monster soon to be renowned for her legendary portrayal of Evita.

1959 - Frank Lloyd Wright's only major New York City building - the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum - opened to the public.

1966 - A coal tip avalanche devastated the Welsh town of Aberfan, killing 144, including 116 children aged 7 to 10.

1969 - A coup d'état in Somalia brought Siad Barre to power.

1977 - The European Patent Institute was founded.

1978 - Australian civilian pilot Frederick Valentich vanished while flying a Cessna 182 over the Bass Strait south of Melbourne, after reporting contact with an unidentified aircraft.

1987 - Formerly the first Jewish Miss America, Ed Koch's best fruit-fly Bess Myerson was arrested for her involvement in an alimony-fixing scam; she was later acquitted.

1990 - The first Apple Day was held in London's Covent Garden.

1994 - 32 people were killed and 17 injured when Seoul's Seongsu Bridge collapsed.
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