With these things there’s no telling

With these things there’s no telling February 15, 2020

Here’s your open thread for February 15, 2020.

This day, in 1980, was the first day of Conor Oberst’s life:

So now the precocious young kid from Bright Eyes is the middle-aged guy from Better Oblivion Community Center, and I’m feeling really old.

Today is John Frum Day on Vanuatu. The tale of this cargo cult, which traces back to World War II, is fascinating both in its strangeness and in its strange familiarity. The arrival of American soldiers during the war didn’t just bring the islanders the undreamed of plenty of “cargo,” it also liberated them from the oppressive rule of their previous colonial rulers — who were not magistrates, but missionaries. In the 21st Century, a new religious movement has splintered off from the orthodox faith in John Frum. This “Unity” movement merges the islands’ traditional customs with Christianity and John Frum-ism. It’s led by a man named Prophet Fred.

When I mention Prophet Fred, anger flares in Chief Isaac’s eyes. “He’s a devil,” he snarls. “I won’t talk about him.”

By proclamation of the Philadelphia City Council, February 15 is officially ENIAC Day, celebrating the creation of the world’s first electronic computer at Penn. It’s strictly a local observance, for now, but after the singularity, you’ll all be celebrating it too.

February 15 is also “Liberation Day” in Afghanistan. It celebrates the Soviet withdrawal from that country in 1989 after years of fighting by mujahideen who received training and arms from here in America. The CIA kept careful track of the guerrilla fighters it was training in a database, called “the database” or simply “the base.” That group is still around, I’ve heard, and still goes by that name, just not in English.

Harold Arlen was born on February 15, 1905. He wrote some great songs, including “Stormy Weather” and “Lydia the Tattooed Lady.” And he shared an Academy Award with Yip Harburg for writing “Over the Rainbow.” (To borrow a joke from Dorothy Hammerstein, Harburg wrote “Somewhere over the rainbow.” Arlen wrote “Daa-daaaaa, dada da daada.”)

February 15 is the birthday of Cesar Romero, one of the few people to portray the Joker onscreen who doesn’t also have an Academy Award. It’s also the birthday of Harvey Korman — Tim Conway’s audience of one on the old Carol Burnett Show. And it’s the birthday of hard-working character actor Kevin McCarthy. This gif of McCarthy from the end of the original Invasion of the Body Snatchers is how I’ve felt since about October of 2016.


Matthew Ward, who was a star in “Contemporary Christian Music” before anybody came up with that term, turns 62 today.

Today is the birthday of Art Spiegelman and Matt Groening who both, in different ways, changed the world of comics.

Piero di Lorenzo de’ Medici, who briefly ruled Florence in the late 1400s, was born today. I’m noting him here mainly because he’s remembered as “Piero the Unfortunate,” and I think we should bring back that kind of pithy nomenclature for American presidents. The whole “Bush 41” and “Bush 43” thing doesn’t work. (Nobody calls Abraham Lincoln “Lincoln 16.”) So let’s go with something like “Bush the Elder” and “Bush the Disastrous.” Hayes the Appeaser, Garfield the Slain, Polk the Ladrón, Pierce the Trainwreck … you get the idea.

Abraham Clark was born on February 15, 1726, in Elizabeth, New Jersey. He represented Jersey in the Continental Congress and signed the Declaration of Independence. The Jersey was also the name of the British prison ship on which two of Clark’s sons were held captive and tortured in an attempt to get him to recant, reject independence, and become a loyalist. (He declined, his sons survived.) Abraham Clark represented New Jersey until his death in 1894, when he was buried in Rahway.

Three centuries of Clarks are buried there, in the shadow of the state prison, including my own grandparents and great-grandparents. My dad was born in Elizabeth, too, because our family missed the whole Westward Ho! thing until I finally crossed the Delaware to attend college. (Abraham Clark was the great-grandson of my own great, great, great, etc., grandfather. I still can’t figure out if that makes him my umpteenth cousin or my first cousin umpteen times removed or what.)

Susan B. Anthony was born on February 15, 1820. She fought her whole life for women’s suffrage but American women didn’t get the vote until 14 years after her death in 1906. That didn’t stop her from voting, illegally, in 1872. She was arrested, convicted, and fined, but never paid the fine.

And finally, it’s the birthday of Galileo Galilei. E pur si muove.

Talk amongst yourselves.

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