Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Hopes and Dreams

Reason for Hope

"Yes, we DID enjoy rapping the president's knuckles with a ruler!"

There is always plenty of cause for pessimism with regard to politics in the United States, but every once in awhile something happens that gives me reason to think that perhaps we're not completely doomed...

In an 8-0 decision yesterday the Supreme Court vacated a lower court ruling against the Little Sisters of the Poor, and essentially ordered the lower court to grant the regulatory accommodation regarding contraceptive insurance that the Little Sisters have been requesting all along.

Whenever you get spanked by a unanimous Supreme Court, as HHS Secretary Sylvia Burwell and President Obama were yesterday, you have been well and truly paddled...

Getting It Right

Speaking of landmark Supreme Court decisions, today we celebrate the 62nd anniversary of one which had a profound influence on American public education, a topic near and dear to me.

On May 17, 1954 the Supreme Court held in Brown v. Board of Education that state laws requiring public school systems to be segregated were an unacceptable violation of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

As with the Little Sisters' case, the court's ruling was unanimous (9-0), and it overturned the odious Plessy v. Ferguson decision which had held that "separate but equal" public facilities were permissible. In that case, Justice John Marshall Harlan wrote a famous, thundering dissent, and one could argue that the decision in Brown was a direct (though delayed) result of Harlan's stirring defense of a color-blind society.

"You bipeds sure have a hard time recognizing the obvious, don't you?"

Sadly, sometimes we do...we still do...

Cool Papa Bell

With the Kansas City Monarchs
On May 17, 1903 James Thomas Bell was born in Starkville, Mississippi. He would go on to a Hall of Fame career in professional baseball as "Cool Papa" Bell.

A center fielder for most of his career, Bell's principal claim to fame as a player was his speed. His fellow Hall of Famers Satchel Paige and Josh Gibson were fond of telling preposterous stories about his fleetness of foot.

As was the case with many great players,
Bell never got the chance to play in the major leagues. He retired in 1946, the year before Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier.

He played with the Kansas City Monarchs briefly, among other Negro league teams
(my beloved Kansas City Royals wore nifty Monarchs throwback uniforms last Sunday),
but his best years were spent with the legendary Pittsburgh Crawfords.

In 1974 "Cool Papa" became the fifth Negro Leagues player elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame, and a bronze statue of him is included in the "Field of Legends" exhibit at the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City.

Real Adventure

Ra II on the open sea in 1970
One of the first books
I remember reading cover-to-cover in my youth was Kon-Tiki,
the 1948 non-fiction bestseller by Norwegian adventurer Thor Heyerdahl chronicling his 1947 crossing of the Pacific Ocean on a raft bearing that name.

On May 17, 1970, just as my junior year of high school was drawing to a close, Heyerdahl was making headlines again, setting out from Morocco on a boat made of papyrus in an attempt to prove that ancient seafaring explorers from Africa could have crossed the Atlantic Ocean and reached the Caribbean and South America. A prior attempt the year before had ended in failure, but Heyerdahl and the Ra II ship would eventually reach Barbados safely after a difficult crossing.

In the fall of 1971 Heyerdahl published The Ra Expeditions, an account of both attempts at the Atlantic crossing. Like Kon-Tiki, this book was a reminder that the true spirit of adventure still existed in the world. A 1972 film based on the book would go on to be nominated for a Best Documentary Academy Award.

Don't Hold Your Breath

From the pen of Lisa Benson, whose editorial cartoons you should read often, as I do.

Until Next Time...

On May 17, 1866 Éric Alfred Leslie Satie was born in Honfleur, in the Normandy region of northwest France. By the time he turned 18, he had begun signing his musical compositions with the name "Erik Satie."

Satie was something of an odd duck among composers, dropping out of the famous Paris Conservatory twice and pursuing his own musical path.

He spend much of his life hanging around with avant-garde writers, painters, and composers, and his own compositions were quite popular with that whole crowd.

Personally, I never found Satie's music to be especially interesting, with the exception of his Gymnopédies, three short compositions for solo piano he wrote in 1888. I have always enjoyed these pieces, which have been recorded by some of the world's great piano virtuosos.

Today's send-off is Satie's Gymnopédie No. 1, performed by Daniel Varsano and paired with The Temptation of St. Anthony, a 1947 painting by Leonora Carrington. Enjoy...

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