Tom's Book of Days
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December 21


peter kropotkin

your host

mundo maya :: maya world

WINTER SOLSTICE: The sun reaches the southermost point on the eliptic around today or tomorrow--the exact moment varies from year to year, thanks to the inexactness of the calendar. Today the sun sets at its southernnmost point in the west; it will come back slowly at first, then more rapidly; the days will slowly get longer, then suddenly get longer in bigger chunks. I have yet to quite understand the reason for this. If anyone knows the answer, please let me know. Needless to say, the solstice, although the shortest day of the year, is far from the coldest--this is because the earth retains much of its heat until into January.

1932: Nature writer Edward Hoagland is born in New York City. We would publish several of his books at North Point Press.

1842: Peter Alekseyevich Kropotkin is born. Best known for his anarchist theories, he would also make important contributions to geology and related fields (for example, illuminating the role of glaciation during the Ice Age). And he has a very cool name. He wrote the Encylopedia Britannica (11th edition) entry on "anarchy," and described himself in these words:

Although he achieved renown in a number of different fields, ranging from geography & zoology to sociology & history, he shunned material success for the life of a revolutionist.

1999: The full moon, the moon's perigee (the point in its orbit closest to earth), and the winter solstice all coincide around December 21-December 22. The last time these events coincided was 1866, but 1999 tops that with the approaching millennium. Not only is the moon at perigee, but it is also the closest one of the year, since the moon's orbit keeps deforming, and it is now at its most eccentric. The moon is larger (about 14 percent larger than at its apogee) and brighter than usual. Wiccans say that the moon affects personality as it affects tides, so that if you are an idiot (for example), you are an even bigger idiot on this day.

1999: Thomas Christensen calls in sick with a cold or the flu or something and stays home from work. He's in such a fog he's writing about himself in the third person on the following day, and he's too confused to verify whether the solstice referred to above is actually tonight or tomorrow night. He never even checks his e-mail. This is how he spends his day: until 2:00 in the afternoon he sleeps in bed, then he gets up, puts on a bathrobe, and sleeps on a sofa until 7:00, at which time he goes to bed, and there he sleeps until morning, when he is feeling enough better to return to work.

2012: The long count of the Maya calendar recycles (some say this occurs on December 23 of this year). The Maya believed that time was cyclic, which means we get a do-over in 2012. The long count is sort of a plodding calendar system, not as elegant as the calendar round that was used for most purposes. Unfortunately, the calendar round can only distinguish 18,980 days (about 52 years), so for historic events the long count -- which is just counting one at a time to 1,872,000 and then starting over -- was used. The current long count cycle began August 11, 3114 BCE in the most popular reckoning. For more on the Maya visit my Maya World.


December 22


kenneth rexroth

1440: Giles de Laval, "Bluebeard," is strangled to death for the death of numerous children (the remains of 126 victims were found).

1849: Fyodor Dostoyevsky faces a firing squad for subversive activities. At the last moment, he is issued a pardon.

1905: One of the greatest twentieth-century poets, Kenneth Rexroth, is born in South Bend, Indiana.

biography of Rexroth
Rexroth at the Bureau of Public Secrets

1940: Nathaniel West and his wife are killed in an auto accident in Los Angeles. Their bodies will travel back east with that of F.Scott Fitzgerald, who died the day before.


December 23


radish ladies

m. proust

NOCHE DE LOS RABANAS: In Oaxaca, on the Night of the Radishes, artists carve large Mexican radishes into nativity scenes and other displays. The image at left (not Proust, the other one) was borrowed from

1776: Thomas Paine writes "These are the times that try men's souls." (Many would agree, on the eve of Christmas eve.)

1779: Benedict Arnold is court-martialed.

1888: Vincent Van Gogh cuts off his ear to spite his face.

1912: The Nouvelle Revue Francaise rejects a portion of Marcel Proust's Remembrance of Things Past. "I felt I had come into my own," Proust says, "but my own received me not."

1972: Eight-year-old Richard Knecht sets the world record for consecutive push-ups with a total of 25,222 in 11 hours, 14 minutes.

1990: Eighty-eight percent of Slovenians vote for independence from Yugoslavia. My daughter and a friend tried to start a Slovenian Students Club at their high school but were forced to disband the club on the grounds that "Slovenians aren't a real ethnic group." Oh yeah? Tell it to Frankie Yankovic!


December 24


aldous huxley

ava gardner


1814:The Treaty of Ghent is signed. (Ghent is one of my favorite cities. I've visited almost every year for the past several years.)

1818: James Prescott Joule is born. He would postulate that mechanical, electrical, and heat energy are essentially the same and could be converted from one to another (the principle of conservation of energy). The joule, the basic unit of energy, would be named after him. It is defined as the work done when a force of one newton moves one meter. (When will the U.S. go metric?)

1912: D. H. Lawrence writes a friend, "My motto is 'Art for my sake.'"

1914: John Muir dies, in Los Angeles of all places.

1922: Ava Gardner, youngest of a tenant farmer's seven children, is born in the farming community of Brogden, North Carolina.

1955: Aldous Huxley takes LSD for the first time.


December 25



800: Charlemagne is crowned.

1899: Humphrey Bogart is born. For years the December 25 date would be dismissed by many as publicity hype (like the July 4 dates of James Cagney and Louis Armstrong). In The Complete Films of Humphrey Bogart, Clifford McCarty would claim that Warner Brothers had changed his birthday "to foster the view that a man born on Christmas Day couldn't really be as villainous as he appeared to be on screen." Later, Bogart biographers A. M. Sperber and Eric Lax would substantiate the December 25 date.

1923: Fifty-seven-year-old H. G. Wells spends Christmas morning playing with his new toy soldiers.

1977: Charlie Chaplin dies in Switzerland at eighty-eight. On March 2 his coffin would be removed in a ransom attempt. Chaplin's widow would refuse the request but play along long enough for police to determine the ransom calls were being made from a pay phone. A stake-out of pay phones would capture two desperate Eastern European men, and Chaplin's remains would be recovered by police on May 17.


December 26


ambrose bierce

1606: King Lear is performed at court.

1703: Dorothy Jones (my 6th great grandmother) gets a little willd. She was a Quaker who married "Out of Meeting" (outside the Quaker church). The free spirit later got called to court, according to the records of the 1703 Delaware Court Proceedings:

Among the grand jury presentments. "Dorothy," wife of Richard Canterill, presented for masking in men's clothes the day after Christmas, "walking and dancing in the house of John Simes at 9 or 10 o'clock at night.'" John Simes, who gave the masquerade party, was presented for keeping a disorderly house, "a nursery of Debotch ye inhabitants and youth of this city... to ye greef of and disturbance of peaceful minds and propagating ye Throne of wickedness amongst us."

1913: Ambrose Bierce (pictured), accompanying Pancho Villa, writes his last letter before disappearing forever.

1991: The Soviet Union is dissolved.


December 27


charles olson

1836: The HMS Beagle, under the command of captain Robert FitzRoy and carrying among its passengers the twenty-two-year-old naturalist Charles Darwin, sets sail on its second survey journey, which would last five years (returning on October 2, 1836). FitzRoy, an enthusiast of physiognomy, almost rejected Darwin, claiming that the shape of his nose indicated a lack of determination.

1861: Anarchist Michael Bakunin arrives in London.

1866: Charles Dickens replies to a fan: "Dear Madame, you make an absurd, though common mistake in supposing that any human creature can help you to be an authoress, if you cannot become one in virtue of your own powers."

1910: Charles Olson (pictured) is born in Worcester, Mass.

1927: Leon Trostky is expelled from the Communist party.


December 28


j. calhoun



1822: Stendhal conceives the idea of writing a philosophical treatise on love, De l'Amour. Italo Calvino's essay on it appears in his Why Read the Classics?

1832: John C. "Eraserhead" Calhoun resigns as Vice President of the United States (to enter the Sentate).

1869: William Finley Semple of Mount Vernon, Ohio, patents chewing gum (but he will never produce it commercially).

1895: Auguste (1864-1948) and Louis (1862-1954) Lumière show the film La Sortie des usines Lumière (Quitting Time at the Lumière Factory) at the Grand Café on the Boulevard des Capuchines in Paris (together with some short clips). The Lumières would produce about a thousand films, but they still considered film a mere novelty, telling George Meliès that “cinema is an invention without a future.”


December 29


wounded knee

sun yatsen

hildegarde knef

maggie smith

1809: William Gladstone is born. He would serve four terms as prime minister of England under Queen Victoria. He would be the liberal nemesis of conservative Benjamin Disraeli to whom he would lose, then regain, the post of prime minister.

1845: Texas is admitted into the union as the 28th state. Nonetheless, it would still be regarded by Mexico as a renegade province. Disputes about its border would be a contributing factor to the U.S.-Mexican War.

1890: In the Massacre of Wounded Knee about two hundred Lakota Sioux men and women are killed by troops of the U.S. 7th Cavalry in South Dakota. Although the Sioux were mostly disarmed (they had surrended volutarily and the conflict began during a weapons search) twenty Congressional Medals of Honor would be awarded to federal soldiers. L. Frank Baum, later author of the Oz books, would write a newspaper editorial:

Our only safety depends upon the total extermination of the Indians. Having wronged them for centuries, we had better, in order to protect our civilization, follow it up by one more wrong and wipe these untamed and untamable creatures from the face of the earth.

The image at left is a detail from a painting on a foreign-language site unreadable by me, If there are any restrictions on its use, I apologize.

1911: A group of povincial representatives elect Sun Yatsen as provisional president of the Republic of China, ending millennia of dynastic rule.

1916: Rasputin is assassinated in St. Petersburg.

1934: German actress Hildegard Knef is born. She would star in a number of films, including Die Sünderin (The Sinner), in which she would perform what is said to be the first nude scene in German cinema; the film would cause a major scandal.

1934: English actress Margaret Natalie (Maggie) Smith is born.

2005: The ACLU runs a full-page ad in the New York Times calling for an independent couselor to investigate President Bush for a program of secretly spying on citizens and lying about it. The ad shows a picture of Ruchard Nixon with the caption "He lied to the American people and broke the law," followed by a picture of George W. Bush with the caption "So did he." The ad concludes:

Congress must thoroughly investigate these lies and renew its bipartisan commitment to our Constitution's system of checks and balances.... Because it's not about promoting a political agenda. It's about preserving American democracy.


December 30


patti smith

1816: Learning that his first wife has drowned herself, Percy Bysshe Shelley marries Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin, with whom he had eloped to Switzerland in the summer of 1814.

1853: The U.S. obtains land from Mexico in the Gadsden Purchase. Mexico was in a weakened position resulting from its defeat in the U.S.-Mexican War.

1910: Paul Bowles is born in New York City.

1934: Ellas Bates (Bo Diddley) is born in McComb, Mississippi.

1940: The Arroyo Seco Parkway, California's first freeway, opens.

1946: Patti Smith (shown) is born in Chicago.

1970: Paul McCartney sues his mates to dissolve the Beatles.

      You get your lawyer and I'll get mine
      We'll all get together and have a real bad time.

            -- George Harrison, "Sue Me Blues"


December 31


henri matisse

1320, 1384: John Wycliffe is born, John Wycliffe dies....In between, he is "the morning star of the Reformation," criticizing abuses in the church; he also does the first translation of the Bible into a European language in 1000 years. But the church frowns on his activities, and after his death the pope orders his bones exhumed and burned, and his followers suppressed.

1695: The British impose the windows tax: houses are taxed according to their number of windows. As a result, many of the windows in England are bricked over.

1869: Henri Matisse is born.

1999: On live TV, Larry King asks the Dalai Lama, "What does the year 2000 mean in your Muslim religion?"

1999: Good dog! In Argentina, killer bees attack a young boy, who is saved when the family dog throws herself over the child to protect him. The boy, taken to the hospital, is fine, with only a few stings; the dog, however, dies.

continue to January 1.



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