Tom's Book of Days
      May 11-20  

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May 11


martha graham

salvador dali

1846: US President Polk sends a message of war against Mexico to Congress.

The Mexican Government not only refused to receive [our envoy] or listen to his propositions, but after a long-continued series of menaces have at last invaded our territory and shed the blood of our fellow-citizens on our own soil.. The grievous wrongs perpetrated by Mexico upon our citizens throughout a long period of years remain unredressed, and solemn treaties pledging her public faith for this redress have been disregarded. A government either unable or unwilling to enforce the execution of such treaties fails to perform one of its plainest duties.
      --James K. Polk

1894: Martha Graham is born.

1904: Salvador DalÝ is born.

1968 posters 1968: The Night of the Barricades, Paris: Saturday, May 11, sees the decisive battle and the defeat of the Government. After police had violated the autonomy of the university for the first time in the twentieth century (other than during Nazi occupation) to break up protests, students tear up the street and use the paving stones as missiles. There is ferocious fighting. Barricades--some of them more than 10 feet high--are built from overturned cars, sawed-down trees, lampposts, and anything else at hand. Lookouts on rooftops signal what the police are up to, while radio reports provide the position of police and activities of rebel comrades in other sections of the city. A resident of the Latin Quarter will later recall:

All of us spent the night of May 10-11 in the street. All the neighbors were there--shopkeepers, teachers, launderers. We were curious and a little uplifted: the atmosphere was definitely out of the ordinary. Everyone contributed stuff to help the kids build their barricades: cellars were emptied, even flower pots and old packing cases were donated... People on their balconies were so revolted by the behavior of the forces of order that they stood up on those high floors and flung huge pieces of furniture down on the cops who were huddled under their shields like old Roman soldiers (from, but that link has gone bad).

2006: Robert Boyd, professor of optics at the University of Rochester, reports that he has created impulses in the laboratory that exceed the speed of light. When the speed of light is exceeded, the light moves backward. "It's weird stuff," says Boyd. "We sent a pulse through an optical fiber, and before its peak even entered the fiber, it was exiting the other end. Through experiments we were able to see that the pulse inside the fiber was actually moving backward, linking the input and output pulses.... I know this all sounds weird, but this is the way the world works."

May 12



1812: Edward Lear is born in Highgate, near London.

                    How pleasant to know Mr. Lear!
                    Who has written such volumes of stuff!
                    Some think him ill-tempered and queer,
                    But a few think him pleasant enough.

1922: Jack Kerouac is born in Lowell, Massachusetts

May 13


photo by man ray

1666: Richard Cantrell (my 6th great grandfather) is born in Derbyshire, England. He would build some of the first brick houses in Philadelphia. Great-Grandma Dorothy Jones was a Quaker who married him "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."

1846: U.S. President Polk declares war on Mexico.

1846: L'Etoile de Mer (The Star of the Sea), a film by Man Ray based on a poem by Robert Desnos, premiers at the Studio des Ursulines.

1940: Bruce Chatwin is born in Birmingham.

1952: David Byrne is born in Scotland.

1983: Reggie Jackson becomes the first major leaguer to strike out 2,000 times.

1985: Mayor Wilson Goode of Philadelphia orders the headquarters of the anti-government group MOVE bombed, causing a fire that destroys 61 homes and kills 11 people, including 5 children. The strategy, the mayor would explain, was "perfect, except for the fire."

May 14



1804: Merriwether Lewis and William Clark leave Saint Louis for their expedition up the Missouri River.

1891: Mikhail Afanasievich Bulgakov is born in Kiev. Kevin Moss at Middlebury College has created an excellent site devoted to Bulgakov's Master and Margarita.

1968: Sorbonne students occupy the university and invite workers to join them in a discussion of issues surrounding it. All demonstrators who had been arrested are released. In the following weeks, similar demonstrations take place in Madrid, Rome, Berlin, and Prague.

1974: As the world watches on live television, police trap members of the Symbionese Liberation Army in a Los Angeles house, which they riddle with bullets and set ablaze. Six SLA members, including Field Marshall Cinque (Donald DeFreeze), die, and the organization is destroyed. Tania (Patty Hearst, who was abducted on February 4) is not present; she disappears underground until her arrest in San Francisco on September 18, 1975.

May 15


Dante Alighieri

1164: HÚlo´se, whose affair with Peter Abelard when she was his student led to his castration (and, later, their marriage), dies in Paraclete Abbey.

1265: Dante Alighieri is born.

1618: Johannes Kepler discovers his law of harmonics: there is an exact relationship between the squares of planets' periodic times and the cubes of the radii of their orbits. This rule (which is sometimes called the 3/2 ratio) will contribute to Sir Isaac Newton's theory of universal gravitation.

1851: Phra Bat Somdet Phra Chom Klao Chao Yu Hua, known in English as King Mongkut or Rama IV, is crowned king of Thailand. He is the king in the Anna and the King books and movies. Forrest McGill, Chief Curator at the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco, has written about him:

He was born in 1804 as the eldest son of the reigning king and his chief queen, and was educated as the heir apparent. When he was twenty he became a Buddhist monk for what was expected to be a short period, as was customary. However, soon after he entered the monastery, his father died. To the surprise of many at court, he was passed over, and his older, more experienced (though lower ranking) half-brother became king. Mongkut opted to remain a monk for the entire succeeding reign, a period of twenty-six years.
      During his years in the priesthood, Mongkut studied widely and deeply. He learned the ancient languages of Buddhist texts, Sanskrit and Pali, as well as several other Asian languages, and a good deal of English. He traveled widely around the country, getting to know ordinary people in a way a prince or king never could have. Eventually, he undertook a thorough reform of Thai Buddhist doctrine and monastic practice.
      In 1851, on the death of the king his half-brother, Mongkut left the priesthood to ascend the throne. He was an extraordinarily capable ruler, quietly modernizing many aspects of his kingdom's life while skillfully fending off threats from the British and other European colonialists who were taking over the rest of Southeast Asia.
      The king took a strong interest in his children's education, realizing that in the new world of expanding European and American power, international trade, and competition, they would have to have knowledge and skills earlier royal children had not needed. To teach English and other modern subjects in the palace the king hired several wives of American missionaries and then, in 1862, the Englishwoman Anna Leonowens.
      Leonowens served the king for four years before returning to England. Once there, she had no livelihood, and supported herself writing and lecturing about Siam, as Thailand was then called, its king, and her experiences as teacher for the royal children. Her books, The English Governess at the Siamese Court (1870) and Romance of the Harem (1872) patch together real observation with vivid imaginings and lurid tales stolen from other equally unreliable writers. As a historian of the period has written, "It obviously proved lucrative [for Leonowens] to thrill her Victorian audiences with gruesome tales of eastern harem life."
      Leonowens's books did not pass into the obscurity they deserved. In 1944 the American writer Margaret Landon used them as the basis for her novel Anna and the King of Siam. This, in turn, became a 1946 movie of the same name starring Rex Harrison as King Mongkut. Then Rodgers and Hammerstein set the story to music, producing The King and I on Broadway and as a movie in 1956 with the king played by Yul Brynner.
      All of these versions have offended many people in Thailand. For them to have their great and beloved religious reformer, scholar, and king portrayed as a cruel buffoon is not only untruthful but insulting.

1862: General Benjamin Butler, commander of occupation forces in New Orleans, issues his "Woman Order," which allows Union soldiers to treat any New Orleans women who "insults" them as prostitutes. (Among Butler's other actions in New Orleans: seizing the posh St. Charles Hotel as his headquarters, confiscating $800,000 from the Dutch consulate, hanging a man for taking a Union flag down from a flagpole, earning the nickname "Spoons" for his tendency to pocket silverware.) General Grant, a competent soldier, considered Butler incompetent. Still, he had some success in politics, serving many terms as a Massachusetts state legislator. He also ran unsuccessfully many times for governor (1871, 1873, 1874, 1878, and 1879), before being elected in 1882; in his final bid for office, he was the Presidential nominee of the Greenback-Labor and Anti-Monopoly parties in 1884, polling less than 2% of the popular vote. He was also the lead House prosecutor at the impeachment trial of Andrew Johnson (characteristically, he bungled the job).

May 16


Kepler hologram from

1571: Johannes Kepler, by his own calculations, is conceived at 4:37 AM

1717: Charged with subversion, Francois Marie Arouet (Voltaire) is in the Bastille (a destination to which he will return).

1791: Denmark becomes the first Western country to outlaw the slave trade.

1868: Andrew Johnson escapes impeachment by one vote in the Senate (another vote, on May 26, will also fail by one vote)..

1891: Spam debuts.

1899: George S. Boutwell, first president of the Anti-Imperialist League (1898-1905), speaks out against President McKinley's annexation of the Philippines at a conference in Boston. Annexation of the Philippines was imposed by the U.S. in the Treaty of Paris following its victory in the Spanish-American War. Many people, among them Andrew Carnegie, Mark Twain, and former President Grover Cleveland, opposed annexation, noting that armed resistance against U.S. forces suggested that the Philippine people did not entirely welcome U.S. colonial rule (also, the U.S. had disclaimed a policy of annexation in the Teller Amendment). Boutwell argued that "The iniquity of imperialism is bearing a harvest of evil in many quarters…. Freedom, Justice and Peace are natural allies. Herein is our demand. The administration has entered upon a policy of aggression, injustice and war. Herein is the issue on which the country is to pass judgment." Reelection of McKinley in the 1900 elections, however, amounted to endorsement of annexation.

May 17


e. satie

1846: Antoine Joseph Sax patents the saxophone.

1866: Erik Satie (pictured) is born.

1949: The British government recognizes the Republic of Ireland.

1954: In Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka (Kansas), the US Supreme Court rules "separate but equal" public education is unconstitutional as a violation of the 14th Amendment guaranteeing equal protection of the laws. This reverses the 1896 "separate but equal" Plessy vs Ferguson decision.

1978: The remains of Charlie Chaplin are recovered by Swiss police. See December 25.

May 18


Ballets Without ...

1781: In Cuzco, formerly the capital of the southern Incan empire, Tupa Amaru II (José Gabriel Condorcanqui), who has led the first rebellion against the Spanish in 200 years, is tortured, then drawn and quartered in the Plaza Mayor--the same square in which his great-grandfather and namesake had been executed two centuries before. After his death, descendents of the Incas will be systematically tracked down, and many will be killed; a group of ninety will be sent to Spain where most will die in prison.

PACHACUTI: First emperor, mighty conqueror, creator of the Inca Empire by conquest. 1438-1471
TUPA INCA (son of Pachacuti): Second emperor, one of history's farthest-ranging conquerors. 1471-1493
HUAYNA CAPAC (son of Tupa Inca): Third emperor, expanded empire northward, died of plague amid bad omens. 1493-1527
HUASCAR (son of Huyana Capac): Fourth emperor, overthrown by civil war, executed by Atahuallpa. 1527-1532
ATAHUALLPA (son of Huyana Capac): Captured and executed by Francisco Pizarro. 1532-1533
MANCO INCA (son of Huyana Capac): Crowned by Spaniards, rebelled in 1536, set up Inca jungle state. 1533-1545
TUPA AMARU (third son of Manco Inca): Captured in jungle, executed by Spanish viceroy, Plaza Mayor, Cuzco. 1571-1572

1804: The French Senate names First Consul Napoleon Bonaparte "Emperor of the French."

1979: Silkwood vs. Kerr-McGee establishes that corporations are responsible for the people they irradiate.

2000: Ballets without Music, without Dancers, Without Anything by Louis Ferdinand CÚline is named a finalist in the PEN USA West 2000 Literary Awards in the category of translation. The award honors outstanding works published or produced in 1999 by writers living in the Western United States. Judges were Thomas Frick, Miranda Johnson-Haddad, and Jerome Rothenberg.

May 19



1536: Anne Boleyn is beheaded after a trial for adultery and witchcraft. Among the damning evidence produced against her was the presence of an extra finger and an extra nipple.

1883: French occupation forces in Hanoi suffer heavy losses at Cau Giay Gate. Colonel Henri Riviere, general commander of the French expeditionary army in northern Viet Nam, is killed.

1915: Eruption of Lassen Peak in California.

1927: US Marines land in Nicaragua once again.

1935: T.E. Lawrence ("of Arabia") is killed in motorcycle accident.

1991: Thousands of protesters battle riot police in Kwangju, the Republic of Korea, in the fiercest fighting of three weeks of anti-government protests.

May 20



1498: Vasco da Gama arrives at Calicut on the Malabar coast, India.

1776: Under Joseph Brandt (Thayendanega), Mohawks allied with Enland defeat rebel Americans at the Battle of the Cedars on the St. Lawrence Seaway.

1845: Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett meet in her family's home in Wimpole Street.

1920: Henry Ford publishes "Protocols of the Elders of Zion" in the Dearborn Independent. Ford admired Nazi Germany and profited from his factories in both the US and Germany during WWII, producing materials for both sides.

continue to May 21


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