One hundred years ago this fall philosopher and Nobel Prize-winning writer Albert Camus was born in French Algeria.
Although best known today for his work The Stranger, Camus wrote several important books, was involved in the French Resistance during World War II and was an active human rights proponent.
The second-youngest recipient of the Nobel Prize in Literature, after Rudyard Kipling, Camus died in car crash in January 1960 at age 46, less than three years after winning the award.
One of Camus’ masterpieces is The Plague, a 1947 novel set in the Algerian city of Oran.
In Camus’ work, an outbreak of bubonic plague sweeps the coastal community, which is sealed off as a health measure, trapping hundreds of thousands for months as the death toll steadily mounts.
The Plague ponders the vagaries of fate and the conflict between man’s innate tendency to seek inherent value and meaning in life, even when none may exist.
A research team led by underwater archaeologists from the South Carolina Institute of Archaeology and Anthropology began searching this week for a revenue cutter that exploded in Charleston Harbor 200 years ago.
The US Revenue Cutter Gallatin came ashore on April 1, 1813, in Charleston, where its crew took on supplies and prepared for their next mission. Apparently, a spark reached the ship’s powder store because shortly after 11 a.m., the Gallatin was blown apart.
Despite the devastating impact of the explosion, which killed three crew members and seriously injured five others, researchers believe there’s a chance relics from the vessel may still be recoverable after two centuries, according to the Charleston Post and Courier.
“Personal effects or artifacts that represent the state of South Carolina’s coastal defenses might ‘give a glimpse of the War of 1812 through the actual archaeological record,’” Jim Spirek, an underwater archaeologist at the S.C. Institute of Archaeology and Anthropology, told the newspaper.
Spirek, however, is cautious. After 200 years, during which the city’s waterfront has been greatly altered, the odds of finding the cutter seem daunting.
“The initial plan calls for dragging a side-scan sonar device behind a boat while looking for sunken ‘anomalies’ in the muck,” the Post and Courier reported. “If something of curiosity is found, for example, a collection of ballast stones, divers would go into the water for a closer look. The ship’s cannons were reported to have been recovered shortly after the disaster, so they aren’t on the menu.”
Manx, a language declared extinct in the 1990s, is staging an extraordinary renaissance.
Nearly 40 years after last native speaker of Manx died and half a generation after UNESCO declared it extinct, the Gaelic language is anything but dead.
“Road signs, radio shows, mobile phone apps, novels – take a drive around the Isle of Man today and the local language is prominent,” according to the BBC News Magazine.
Manx is a sister language of Irish and Scottish Gaelic, and like those two languages is descended from an old version of Irish. In the Manx tongue, the language is called “Gaelg” or “Gailck,” similar to the English word “Gaelic.”
Like many of the languages which once flourished within the British Isles, including Irish, Scottish Gaelic and Cornish, Manx was supplanted by English and later looked down upon by many, particularly those in power.
“In the 1860s there were thousands of Manx people who couldn’t speak English,” said Brian Stowell, 76, a native of the Isle of Man, located in the Irish Sea between Great Britain and Ireland. “But barely a century later it was considered to be so backwards to speak the language that there were stories of Manx speakers getting stones thrown at them in the towns.”
Book reviews, when done well, can provide useful history lessons in and of themselves.
“Mr. Coolidge’s hallmark was distrust of government. He saw it as an entity that uses ‘despotic exactions’ (taxes) that sap individual initiative and prosperity across the board …” according to publication.
“Coolidge learned at first towards the surging progressive movement, which supported state intervention and union involvement in the economy,” the review adds. “But his views shifted when he saw what those ideas meant in practice.”
The Economist is not noted for being a publication of a particularly libertarian bent by any means, but it recognizes Coolidge’s achievements during his five-and-a-half years as president, during which American debt fell by one-third, the tax rate by half and unemployment dropped precipitously. It’s unfortunate that more Americans haven’t taken note of Coolidge’s accomplishments.
While no means perfect, Coolidge offers an interesting counterbalance to FDR and his New Deal approach.
There were plenty of hazardous postings during World War I, but serving as bait to lure German U-boats to the surface certainly ranked among the most perilous.
The British navy is believed to have produced between 200 and 300 so-called “Q-ships” during the conflict, vessels specially adapted as decoys and armed with concealed guns. Their goal was to lure enemy submarines to the surface and then attempt to destroy them.
This little-known aspect of the Allied war effort came to the fore last weekend, when researchers announced that they believe they have found the Q-ship HMS Stock Force, sunk in July 1918.
A team of divers spent about four years searching for the Stock Force and discovered the vessel about eight miles from where charts had indicated, at a depth of 200 feet, 14 miles from Plymouth, (England), according to the blog Remembering 1914.
The Stock Force was a former collier which retained the appearance of a merchant vessel and was manned by a Royal Navy crew disguised as merchant sailors.
On July 30, 1918, it was attacked by a U-boat, believed to be the UB 80, off the coast of Devon, and suffered a torpedo strike. However, the British ship then turned the tables on its assailant.
After nearly 225 years, the bells of Notre Dame de Paris will soon ring again with pitch-perfect tones.
Nine enormous, new bronze bells, including one weighing six and half tons, have arrived in Paris to give the famed medieval cathedral a more harmonious sound.
They are joining the cathedral’s oldest surviving bell, a great bell named Emmanuel, to restore rich tones originally conceived for the great church, according to The Daily Mail.
The new bells, each named for a saint or prominent Catholic figure, were nearly all cast in a foundry in the Normandy town of Villedieu. They will be blessed Saturday in the cathedral’s nave by Archbishop Andre Armand Vingt-Trois, according to The Associated Press.
“The nine casts were ordered for the cathedral’s 850th birthday – to replace the discordant “ding dang” of the previous four 19th century chimes,” according to the wire serve.
The original bells, except for Emmanuel, were destroyed in the French Revolution, and the replacements were said to be France’s “most out-of-tune church bells.” Emmanuel has long enjoyed a special place in the hearts of Parisians; it was rung in 1944 to announce the liberation of Paris from Nazi occupation.
Perhaps the most famous bell-ringer in literary history, Quasimodo, toiled at Notre Dame in Victor Hugo’s 1831 classic “The Hunchback of Notre Dame.” It should be noted that he was also deaf.
John Marshall became chief justice of the United States on this date in 1801. Marshall would sit on the high court until 1835, and his opinions laid the basis for American constitutional law and made the US Supreme Court a co-equal branch of government, along with the legislative and executive branches.
But what of Marshall’s predecessors?
The best known of the three men to lead the Supreme Court before Marshall was John Jay, who, among other things, helped write the Federalist Papers with Alexander Hamilton and James Madison.
During Jay’s nearly six years as chief justice (1789-1795), the high court ruled on just four cases, rather remarkable considering today the court receives petitions to hear some 7,000 cases annually.
Jay resigned as chief justice in June 1795 after being elected governor of New York. President George Washington named John Rutledge of South Carolina, an original high court associate justice who had resigned in 1791 to become chief justice of the South Carolina Court of Common Pleas and Sessions, to replace Jay.
Washington’s appointment took effect immediately as the US Senate was not in session.
However, Rutledge’s time on the court proved one of the shortest in the history of the nation. He was a vocal opponent to the Jay Treaty of 1794, which resolved issues remaining from the Revolutionary War but left many Americans unhappy.
His opposition cost him support in the administration and the senate. In addition, questions about his mental stability, driven at least partly by partisanship, were making the rounds.
William J. “Bill” Cullerton, the leading air ace from Chicago during World War II, died this week at age 89.
Cullerton volunteered for service and arrived for action in Europe on D-Day, June 6, 1944.
Part of the 355th Fighter Group based at Steeple Morden Airfield in England, Cullerton was among the first group of US pilots to fly the P-51 Mustang, among the most iconic aircraft of the war.
During less than a year of combat action, he shot down eight enemy aircraft and destroyed another 21 on the ground.
On Nov. 2, 1944, Cullerton destroyed eight Nazi planes. He would go on to finish the war as the top ace from Chicago, according to the book The Last Dragoon from Steeple Morden, which recounts Cullerton’s last dramatic weeks of action.
On April 8, 1945, with the war in Europe just a month from being over, Cullerton was shot down by ground fire behind German lines.
With a new year comes new resolutions, or, as is often the case, old resolutions that have been “repurposed” for a new year.
The proprietor of this blog, in a ham-fisted attempt to comport with societal norms, will endeavor to improve himself and, more importantly, the lives of those around him by attempting to adhere to several resolutions in 2013.
Some are more serious, others less so; it is up to the reader to determine which is which.
- Reduce the number of times I refer to idjits and amadáns as “idjits” and “amadáns,” especially if my girls are within earshot.
- Reduce blood pressure by reducing shopping at Wal-Mart. It has become apparent that saving 5 cents a box on Kraft macaroni and cheese isn’t worth having to put up with idjits and amadáns who shop there. I refer to a) the woman walking down the aisles singing at the top of her lungs; b) the woman carrying on a lengthy dialogue, in 80-decibel tones, with her 2-year-old on why said 2-year-old will not obey her; the man who parks his car directly in front of the store entrance and waits 15 minutes with the motor running and exhaust spewing while his spouse shops; the innumerable parents who yammer on cell phones while their children run screaming through the aisles like Sioux warriors chasing down Custer’s bedraggled 7th Cavalry; etc., ad nauseam. Read the rest of this entry »