November 3, 2018
Garrison Keillor performs with duet partner Lynne Peterson and longtime collaborator & pianist Richard Dworsky.
5:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m.
A live performance at the Brady Theater
Long Beach, CA
A live performance at the Carpenter Performing Arts Center
A live performance at the Saenger Theatre
A live performance at the Yavapai College Performing Arts Center
Sonnet 91 by William Shakespeare. Public domain. (buy now)
Some glory in their birth, some in their skill,
Some in their wealth, some in their body’s force;
Some in their garments, though new-fangled ill;
Some in their hawks and hounds, some in their horse;
And every humour hath his adjunct pleasure,
Wherein it finds a joy above the rest:
But these particulars are not my measure;
All these I better in one general best.
Thy love is better than high birth to me,
Richer than wealth, prouder than garments’ cost,
Of more delight than hawks or horses be;
And having thee, of all men’s pride I boast:
Wretched in this alone, that thou mayst take
All this away, and me most wretched make.
On this day in 1982, Scott Fahlman, a computer scientist at Carnegie Mellon, suggested on an online bulletin board that the users type a colon, a hyphen, and a closing parenthesis when their post was intended as a joke. “Read it sideways” he wrote, so readers would realize it looked like a smiley face 🙂.
Fahlman’s wasn’t the only suggested solution to the growing problem of users misreading the tone of sarcastic comments. Three days prior, one Carnegie Mellon user posted a hypothetical physics problem involving an elevator, fire, and mercury. Another responded by posting a facetious warning that the department’s elevator had been burned and contaminated, intending to imply that someone had attempted the experiment. Trouble was, plenty of people didn’t get the joke. The following day, after the rumor had finally been put to rest, someone wrote, “Maybe we should adopt a convention of putting a star (*) in the subject field of any notice that is to be taken as a joke.” It is, of course, impossible to know whether the writer intended this post as a legitimate course of action or as a joke. Regardless, numerous people chimed in with various suggestions, the earnestness of which was, again, difficult to determine. Was the poster who recommended using the percent sign instead of the asterisk sincere? Possibly. The one who proclaimed that the ampersand looks “like a jolly fat man in convulsions of laughter”? Probably not. The one who developed a complete taxonomy and scale of joke types and values, complete with a coding schema? These were computer scientists, after all.
It was then that Fahlman proposed his smiley face, the first-ever emoticon (although that term, a portmanteau of “emotion” and “icon,” wasn’t regularly used until 1994). In the same post, he postulated that perhaps a colon, hyphen, and opening parenthesis — the frowny face — could be used to indicate serious posts. Other posters began using the smiley face to mark jokes, and the convention quickly spread — and mutated to all kinds of typographical pictographs. Fahlman’s frowny face, however, came to express sadness rather than earnestness.
To the critics who lament that good writers needn’t express themselves with pictures but with, rather, words, Fahlman responds on his university Web page. “To a large degree, I agree …,” he writes. “Perhaps the email smiley face has done more to degrade our written communication than to improve it.” But, he continues, the average Internet user doesn’t have the literary skills of Shakespeare or Twain, and isn’t capable of rendering jokes as exquisitely as they. He further argues that the Internet is such a categorically different medium than traditional publishing — one that encourages such call-and-response from readers — that to not have a way to clearly define a joke invites too much misunderstanding and chaos. “Besides,” he writes, “Shakespeare’s work is full of clichés and his spelling was atrocious.” He follows this with a smiley face 🙂
Fahlman was the first documented user of a modern-day emoticon, but he wasn’t the first to conceive such a thing. In fact, the novelist Vladimir Nabokov himself approved of the concept in 1969. When asked in an interview for The New York Times how he would rank himself among his contemporaries, he replied, “I often think there should exist a special typographical sign for a smile — some sort of concave mark, a supine round bracket, which I would now like to trace in reply to your question.”
On this day in 1796, President George Washington‘s farewell address was printed in the Daily American Advertiser as an open letter to American citizens. The most famous of all his “speeches,” it was never actually spoken; a week after its publication in this Philadelphia newspaper, it was reprinted in papers all over the country.
The address was a collaborative effort that took Washington months to finalize, incorporating the notes that James Madison had prepared four years prior when Washington intended to retire after his first term, as well as numerous edits from Alexander Hamilton and a critique from John Jay. Madison, Hamilton, and Jay were accustomed to writing collectively; together they had published the Federalist Papers, 85 newspaper articles published throughout the 13 states to introduce and explain their proposal for a Constitution.
Now only eight years old, the Constitution was in danger, Washington feared, of falling prey to the whims of popular sentiment. In 6,086 words, his address seeks to encourage the nation to respect and maintain the Constitution, warning that a party system — not yet the governmental standard operating procedure — would reduce the nation to infighting. He urged Americans to relinquish their personal or geographical interests for the good of the national interest, warning that “designing men” would try to distract them from their larger common views by highlighting their smaller, local differences. “You cannot shield yourselves too much against the jealousies and heartburnings which spring from these misrepresentations; they tend to render alien to each other those who ought to be bound together by fraternal affection,” he wrote.
Washington also feared interference by foreign governments, and as such extolled the benefits of a stable public credit to be used sparingly, recommending avoiding debt by “cultivating peace” and “by vigorous exertion in time of peace to discharge the debts which unavoidable wars may have occasioned.” Although he conceded that “the execution of these maxims” — or, in layman’s terms, balancing the budget — was the responsibility of the government, Washington wagged a finger at individual citizens too, reminding them that “it is essential that you should practically bear in mind that towards the payment of debts there must be revenue; that to have revenue there must be taxes; that no taxes can be devised which are not more or less inconvenient and unpleasant …”
On this day in 1995, The Washington Post and The New York Times jointly published “Industrial Society and Its Future,” the 35,000-word manifesto of the Unabomber, a serial mail bomber who’d promised to renounce terrorism if either paper published his writing in its entirety.
The publication came after 17 years of violence from the Unabomber, a campaign he waged against modern industrialization under the name “Unabomb,” using the plural pronoun “we” to suggest a group effort. But the FBI knew the terrorist was a single white male with ties to Chicago, Salt Lake City, and the San Francisco Bay Area, and they hoped that distributing his writing would help catch him.
Criticized as capitulating to a criminal and decried as setting a dangerous precedent for copycats, the newspapers were vindicated when a social worker named David Kaczynski read the Manifesto and noticed similarities between it and letters his brother, Ted, had published decades earlier. Estranged from his recluse sibling for a decade, David still wished to remain anonymous when he tipped the FBI off to the Unabomber’s possible identity, but the truth was leaked as Kaczynski’s remote cabin was raided and the FBI discovered evidence that Ted Kaczynski was, in fact, the Unabomber. After paying off his own legal bills resulting from the case, David donated the remainder of his $1 million reward to the families of his brother’s victims.
Today is the birthday of author William Golding (books by this author), born in Newquay, Cornwall, England (1911). His first novel is also his best-known book: Lord of the Flies (1954), written while Golding was working as a schoolteacher. It was rejected 21 times before a new editor at Faber & Faber of London took a chance on it. It didn’t sell well at first, but enjoyed a revival in the 1960s, and is now one of the most frequently taught (and challenged) books in schools and colleges. Golding was awarded the Nobel Prize in literature in 1983.
On this date in 1940, Polish soldier Witold Pilecki allowed himself to be captured by the Nazis. He was a captain in the Polish resistance, and he wanted to find out what was going on near the town of Auschwitz. His superior officers believed it was just a German camp for prisoners of war, but Pilecki suspected that something else was happening there. He hounded his commanders until they finally gave him the go-ahead to join a crowd of Polish citizens who were being rounded up by Nazi soldiers. Pilecki, who left behind a wife and two young children, was taken to Auschwitz along with the others, just as he’d planned. He was given a number — 4859 — and soon realized the true purpose of the camp.
Pilecki remained there for nearly three years, during which time he smuggled out detailed reports of the atrocities with the camp’s dirty laundry. His reports of gas chambers and ovens to dispose of human remains were so horrific that no one in the Polish underground believed him. And even though his reports made their way to the British and the Americans, suggesting ways to liberate the camp, still nothing was done. Meanwhile, he did what he could to arrange escapes for his fellow inmates.
Finally, in 1943, frustrated with the lack of action, Pilecki faked a case of typhus and escaped from the hospital. After the war, the Polish underground recruited him to spy on the country’s new occupiers, the Soviets. But he was captured by the Polish Communist regime and executed for espionage, in 1948. His story was suppressed until after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989.