Las Vegas, NV
May 20, 2020
Garrison Keillor hits Las Vegas with a new solo show!
April 18, 2020
Garrison Keillor comes to the Rochester Civic Theatre for a night of stories, songs, poetry, and humor. Tickets $50 and up
February 19, 2020
Garrison Keillor with Heather Masse at the Dakota. Night 2 of 2. Tickets $30+
February 18, 2020
Garrison Keillor with Heather Masse at the Dakota. Night 1 of 2. Tickets $30+
My Aunt’s Campaign to Save an Overused Word
by Catherine Abbey Hodges
When my aunt decides to stop using
the word great, I can hardly say anything else
in her presence. That was a great meal, I say.
I tell her to have a great week, exclaim
over what I call a great view. I’m forever
retracting, abashed by my sluggish mind,
the blundering tongue that betrays it,
and worried, too, about great grandmothers,
the Great Lakes, already missing great blue herons
until it occurs to me that they’re her point
and that once again I’ve overgeneralized,
a great tendency of mine.
“My Aunt’s Campaign to Save an Overused Word” by Catherine Abbey Hodges from Raft of Days. Gunpowder Press © 2017. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)
It’s the birthday of poet Léonie Adams (books by this author), born in Brooklyn (1899). She went to Barnard College, and fell in with a group of smart, high-spirited girls who called themselves the “Ash Can Cats” after a beloved teacher told Léonie that when she and her friends came into class in the mornings after staying up all night reading poetry, they looked like ash can cats. Another notable member was and Margaret Mead. The group of girls encouraged each other to bob their hair, a radical look for the time. They loved Edna St. Vincent Millay, and often when they went out to eat they would bring a candle, put it on its side, and light it at both ends while they recited “First Fig,” which begins: “My candle burns at both ends; / It will not last the night; / But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends — / It gives a lovely light!”
It’s the anniversary of the establishment of Petrified Forest National Park in northeastern Arizona. Theodore Roosevelt formally recognized the Petrified Forest as a National Monument in 1906, after John Muir visited the area and recommended that it be preserved. Congress passed a bill to elevate the status of the monument into a park on this date in 1962. The park gets its name from fossilized logs, remnants of the forest that stood in the area 225 million years ago. In addition to the trees, the region is home to many other kinds of fossils: giant reptiles, early dinosaurs, and hundreds of plant varieties, with new species being discovered every year.
In 2004, President George Bush increased the boundaries of the park, more than doubling it. It’s one of the largest areas of intact grassland in the southwestern United States.
On this date in 1979, a panel of scientists declared the smallpox virus to be eradicated. It remains the only disease to be driven to extinction through human efforts. Credit for the vaccine usually goes to Edward Jenner, an English doctor. Inoculated as a child with live smallpox, he grew up to be a doctor and developed the vaccine used to irradicated smallpox from the virus that causes cowpox. Jenner devoted his life to promoting the practice of vaccination and vaccinated the poor for free. In 1967, the World Health Organization announced a campaign to eradicate the disease worldwide. The last naturally occurring case of smallpox was diagnosed 10 years later, in 1977, and a panel of scientists certified the disease’s eradication on this date, two years after that.
The disease itself has probably been around since at least 10,000 B.C.E. Evidence of smallpox scars has been found on Egyptian mummies, and the decline of the Roman Empire coincides with a particularly bad outbreak that claimed 7 million people.
Today is the birthday of John Milton (books by this author), born in London (1608). Though he wanted to be a poet, he spent most of his life working as a political pamphleteer, calling for freedom to divorce and freedom of the press. He wrote, among other things, “Who kills a man kills a reasonable creature, God’s image; but he who destroys a good book kills reason itself, kills the image of God, as it were, in the eye.” He also spoke out against the king during England’s civil war, which was fine as long as the king was deposed and Oliver Cromwell was leading the Commonwealth. But eventually, the monarchy was restored and Milton, who by this time had severe glaucoma, became a public enemy. His pamphlets were burned, and people said God had smote him with blindness for his treason against the Crown.
Newly unemployed, Milton returned to poetry. He composed the verses in his head, reciting them over and over until he found someone — friends, family, or hired help — who could write them down. And in this way, he wrote an English epic poem in blank verse: Paradise Lost (1667). Milton published a sequel four years later; it’s called Paradise Regained (1671), and it’s about the temptation of Christ.
It’s the birthday of one of the people who helped invent the modern computer: Grace Hopper, born in New York City (1906). She began tinkering around with machines when she was seven years old, dismantling several alarm clocks around the house to see how they worked. She was especially good at math in school.
She studied math and physics in college, and eventually got a Ph.D. in mathematics from Yale. Then World War II broke out, and Hopper wanted to serve her country. Her father had been an admiral in the Navy, so she applied to a division of the Navy called WAVES, which stood for Women Accepted for Voluntary Emergency Service. She was assigned to work on a machine that might help calculate the trajectory of bombs and rockets.
She learned how to program that early computing machine, and wrote the first instruction manual for its use. She went on to work on several more versions of the same machine. In 1952, Hopper noticed that most computer errors were the result of humans making mistakes in writing programs. So she attempted to solve that problem by writing a new computer language that used ordinary words instead of just numbers. It was one of the first computer languages, and the first designed to help ordinary people write computer programs, and she went on to help develop it into the computer language known as COBOL, or “Common Business-Oriented Language.”
Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®