Friday, February 23, 2007

This date in history

Perusing the New York Times this date in history web site page for February 23rd I came across some interesting tidbits. Today's the 52nd anniversary of the first mass inoculation of children against polio with the Salk vaccine. Growing up my father always told me that Jonas Salk was one of the true heroes of the modern age, and I agree with that assessment. Like all historic figures there is some controversy over some of Salk's actions, but the bottom line is that he led the effort to give the world a workable polio vaccine and refused to patent it. His memory deserves the thanks of millions for that act alone.

Also, American educator, writer, and civil rights leader W. E. B. DuBois was born on this date in 1868. DuBois was another truly great American who fought against racism his entire life. The fact that he left this country at the end of his life, discouraged by racism and soured by what he considered our system's failure to bestow true economic, social, and political equality on all our citizens is a stain on our country's history, not a blemish on DuBois himself. Historian David Levering Lewis wrote a magnificent two volume biography of DuBois. W.E.B. Du Bois: Biography of a Race, 1868-1919 won the 1994 Pulitzer Prize for Biography as well as the Bancroft and Parkman prizes. W.E.B. Du Bois: The Fight for Equality and the American Century 1919-1963 won the 2001 Pulitzer Prize for Biography. I highly recommend both volumes for a clear look at this complex man and the times he lived through.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Random Thoughts 02-11-07

1. The whole Anna Nicole Smith saga is kind of sad to me. Not making any judgments about her lifestyle or what may have caused her death, but it's still a sad story. That's all. I think when she lost her son was the part that really struck me. For a parent to outlive their child is about the worst thing I could imagine.

2. Along that line, I was rooting for Tony Dungy and the Indianapolis Colts to win the Super Bowl, and I was quite happy to see them victorious, but as I was watching the award ceremony I couldn't help but think that Dungy would probably trade it all just to get his older son that died last year back. The thing about Dungy, though, is that he's a Christian man who "walks the walk" and lives out his faith. I'm sure that has sustained him, in fact he has said as much. Still, it made the Super Bowl victory a little bittersweet to me. Dungy has been a role model of mine ever since I read a Sports Illustrated story about him and his measured calm leadership style back in the early 1990's. He's a class act.

3. I've always been one who was basically ambiguous about the Pro Bowl. I hardly ever watch it, but I thought it was a good way for the league to celebrate it's stars and treat them to a Hawaiian vacation and week long get together. However I'm starting to think it may be time to jettison the game, just like the league did the "runner up championship game" decades ago. The risk of injury may be too much. Drew Brees injuring his elbow yesterday and the memory of the Robert Edwards injury years ago all make me wonder what the owners and coaches are thinking about it. Of course Edwards injury happened while just playing touch football in the sand in the week running up to the game, and Brees should be well in a couple of months, but it seems that anything that lessens the chance of injury is what would be best for the players. And along that line, is Ben Roethlisberger still riding a motorcycle?

4. I recently saw one of the best films I've seen in a long time, "Pan's Labrynth" directed by Guillermo del Toro. It's a mix of horror, fantasy, and a realistic (sometimes graphically so) war story, but to even try to describe it that way is an oversimplification in my mind. Basically it's the story of a young girl named Ofelia who is thrust into the horrors of 1944 post civil war Spain when her mother marries a cruel Army Captain who is stationed in a wilderness area in the north of Spain trying to subdue a local band of rebels. Ofelia is a bookish young girl who loses herself in a fantasy world. Whether or not the world is true is ambiguous, but the twin plots of Ofelia's adventures and the conflict between the Captain and his men with the rebels and their sympathizers make for a riveting story. I saw it about a week ago and still can't get it out of my mind. I highly recommend it, but a warning it's rated R for graphic violence and adult language. It's a film for adults and teenagers, not young children.

5. I'm back in graduate school after a decade long hiatus, so my blogs will probably be infrequent for a time. This time I'm working on an M.A. in American History and the course I'm in right now is History of the American South since 1865. Great course, great teacher. I'm really enjoying it, but since I'm a little behind on my reading I'm cutting this piece short. Perhaps later I'll comment on the 2008 Presidential race and the Iran and Iraq situation. A lot is going on, but my main focus for now is American post civil war Reconstruction and the advent of Jim Crow in the southern states.