FRANKENSTEIN DAY is August 30. Why? Because it’s the birthday of Mary Shelley who was born on August 30, 1797. Shelley began writing the novel Frankenstein when she was 18 years old. The first edition of the classic was published anonymously in 1818 when she was 20.
Mary Shelley’s name appeared on the second edition published in France in 1823.
Sunday, April 23rd will be the bard’s 453rd birthday.
Harold Bloom, Yale University professor and Shakespeare scholar, observes that Shakespeare’s writing marks the beginning of the modern era and our idea of what it means to be human. Shakespeare explored human fears, virtues and flaws, giving each character a psychological profile and inventing complex relationships that still spark debate. Did Lady Macbeth force her husband to murder by questioning his manly courage? Or would Macbeth have killed the king anyway without his wife’s taunts?
If you once had to memorize a Shakespeare passage, try to recite it again. Chances are you will discover fragments of Shakespeare’s verse in the cobwebs of your mind. If you never had to learn a passage by heart, try memorizing a few lines. Here are some short quotes worth committing to memory:
“Cowards die many times before their deaths. The valiant only taste of death but once.” (Julius Caesar, Act II, scene ii, line 32)
“For stony limits cannot hold love out.” (Romeo and Juliet, Act II, scene ii, line 67)
“The quality of mercy is not strain’d. It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven. (The Merchant of Venice, Act IV, scene i, line 184)
“All the world’s a stage, and men and women merely players.” (As You Like It, Act II, scene vii, line 139)
“To be, or not to be: that is the question. Whether ‘tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, or take arms against a sea of troubles . . . (Hamlet, Act III, scene i, line 55)
“Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow, creeps in this petty pace from day to day, to the last syllable of recorded time; and all our yesterdays have lighted fools the way to dusty death. (Macbeth, Act V, scene v, line 19)
“We are such stuff as dreams are made on, and our little life is rounded with a sleep. (The Tempest, Act IV, scene i, line 156)
We say “Happy” birthday, New Year, Thanksgiving, Easter and lots of other holidays. But Christmas is the only “Merry” greeting. The answer lies in the tradition of drinking alcohol at Christmas. “Merry” used to mean “tipsy” or “drunk” and the custom of getting drunk at Christmas goes back to the 4th century.
- 324 A.D. Early Christians celebrated Easter only. Pope Liberius added Christmas to the church calendar and set the date December 25. The idea was to attract more converts who liked to celebrate the Roman winter festival Saturnalia when houses were decorated with evergreens and everybody played games, gave gifts and partied.
- Middle Ages. Christmas was celebrated as a rowdy party with dancing, drinking and sexual revelry.
- The Reformation. In the 1500s Protestants banned the wild festival of Christmas, but Catholics partied on.
- The Restoration. In England the Puritans banned Christmas when they seized power in 1640. When the monarchy was restored in 1660, Christmas made a comeback. So did the drinking and revelry.
- 1844. Charles Dickens published A Christmas Carol, a novel where Ebenezer Scrooge says, “Merry Christmas!”
- Temperance Movement. In the late 1800s in England, women campaigned against drinking alcohol at Christmas. They proposed doing away with the tipsy “Merry” and replacing it with “Happy.” To this day the English and Irish say “Happy Christmas.”
How did O. Henry wind up in Honduras? O. Henry’s real name was William Sydney Porter. The author of beloved stories like The Gift of the Magi was also a criminal. Porter was arrested in 1896 for embezzling from the First National Bank of Austin, Texas. The day before his trial, Porter skipped town. He took a train to New Orleans and then a boat to Honduras. While holed up in a hotel, he wrote the novel Cabbages and Kings set in a fictitious Latin American country.
In the novel, Porter coins the expression banana republic that refers to countries in Latin America whose economies are dependent on a single resource such as coffee, sugar, silver, copper or bananas. Porter also invents the stereotype of the cigar-smoking former general who is the ruthless dictator at the helm of an unstable, corrupt government in Latin America.
After six months in the tropics, Porter returned to Austin when word reached him that his wife was dying. He was tried and convicted of the federal crime of embezzlement and sentenced to five years in prison. Porter spent his prison years writing short stories under the pseudonym O. Henry. Getting the stories published from prison was tricky. He mailed the manuscripts to a friend in New Orleans who would then send them to various magazines.
Porter was released from prison after three years for good behavior. He moved to New York City where he wrote 381 short stories and enjoyed considerable fame. A heavy drinker, Porter died in New York at the age of 47 and is buried in Asheville, North Carolina where he owned a summer home.
A digital divide exits in the world at large. Even if an individual has a smart phone, the cost of connecting to the internet is not affordable. According to Wired magazine, 4.9 billion people are not on the internet because it costs too much. Only 10-15% live in remote areas the internet can’t reach. All that is about to change. Several companies plan to offer low-cost or free wi-fi for planet Earth.
Google. Project Loon is Google’s plan to test thousands of helium-filled balloons that measure 49 feet in diameter. From eleven miles high, the balloons will beam wi-fi all over the planet. Project Loon has already run a small test in New Zealand. A much larger test will be conducted in Indonesia in the next few months.
SpaceX. Elon Musk’s plan to provide world-wide wi-fi involves 4,000 small satellites orbiting the earth. SpaceX plans to launch the satellites in the next four years. Unlike the other ventures, Musk’s internet service will be low-cost, not free. His plan is to use the revenue from worldwide internet to fund SpaceX’s plan to build a city on Mars. Musk boldly predicts that satellites will replace fiber optic cables in the next 10-12 years.
Facebook. Free Basics is a partnership between Facebook and Google. By late 2016 Free Basics plans to use ground stations to send radio signals to giant solar-powered drones high in the sky. The drones then send laser signals to more drones nearby that pass the signals to transponders that convert the signals to wi-fi or 4 G networks. These drones are not the kind you buy at Walmart. Called an Aquila, each giant drone is shaped like a boomerang and has the wingspan of a Boeing 737. Imagine a drone as big as a passenger jet surrounded by swarms of smaller drones – 10 thousand drones altogether – that deliver wi-fi to the world.
Free worldwide wi-fi sounds great to Americans, but Free Basics has met with strong resistance to the plan. Both India and Egypt suspended Free Basics service after trial tests in those countries. The majority of people in the world live in countries where state-owned media agencies control internet access. Countries that block and jam websites include China, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Ethiopia, Azerbaijan, Vietnam, Myanmar, Eritrea and Cuba. The least censored countries are Sweden and Switzerland. (Source: Freedom House)
Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg has been traveling the world trying to convince repressive governments that wi-fi access will become as necessary as electricity. Zuckerberg even spoke in Chinese in Beijing, saying “Access to the internet is a fundamental challenge of our time.” Convincing the world’s repressive governments that free internet is in their best interest is an uphill battle. Zuckerberg’s biggest selling point is that driverless cars and smart homes will require 24-hour internet connection.
Google, SpaceX and Facebook are forging ahead no matter what. We can expect one of these plans – balloons, satellites or giant drones – to change our lives very soon.
*Featured Artist: @melissaharrell - graphic design background, watercolor & acrylic artist, modern calligraphy. Mother of 3 little ladies.