March 21 – Independence Day in Namibia

Posted on March 21, 2018

The African nation of Namibia is small and dry - although it's got a chunk of Atlantic Ocean coast! - and it's famous for these sorts of vistas:

The complex history of Namibia since the late 1800s include it being part of the German Empire and then South Africa. In 1948 the government of South Africa installed its awful segregation- and discrimination-by-law apartheid system in the region (which was then called South West Africa), and of course the people there resisted. After several uprisings and demands for political representation, the UN said it would take responsibility for the territory, although in fact South Africa still ruled the region. In 1973, the UN recognized the South West Africa People's Organization as the official representative of the Namibian people - but still South Africa maintained the actual power. Finally, in 1985, South Africa installed an interim government in Namibia, and on this date in 1990 the country FINALLY became fully independent.

There is some good news to report:

Namibia made a successful transition from white minority apartheid rule to a parliamentary democracy!

Even though SWAPO has won every election, there are several political parties.

The nation has held local, regional, and national elections on a regular basis.

A policy of "national reconciliation" has helped the nation transition from guerrilla war against the powers-that-be to rule of law, with the government granting amnesty to anyone who fought on the losing side.

March 20 - Happy Birthday, Louis Sachar

Posted on March 20, 2018

Who on Earth could imagine creating a story that ties together:

A tale set in the 1800s, somewhere in Europe, about a young man trying to win the hand of the girl he loves - and a curse!

A story set in the late 1800s, in the American west, about a (white) schoolteacher who falls in love with a handy (African American) onion merchant - and the violence that ruins their lives, creates another curse - no rain! - and turns a law-abiding woman into an infamous outlaw.

The tale of a modern-day family with really bad luck; the  father is an inventor trying to create a product that will cure foot odor; the son is in the wrong place at the wrong time.

The story of a family that lives in a bone-dry desert; they have been digging in that desert for buried treasure for years; once she's an adult, the daughter starts a juvenile corrections facility where the young inmates have to dig a hole each day.

You probably recognize the plot of Holes, which made a big splash as a novel and as a Disney movie. Author Louis Sachar wove together all of these stories, along with a miraculous survival story, spicy canned peaches and onions, an athlete with very stinky feet, extremely deadly lizards, a homeless boy's theft, and a wonderfully happy ending of broken curses, family reunited, the discovery of a fortune, and a successful invention (patent pending)!

Louis Sachar didn't set out to be a children's author. He was born on this date in 1954, in upstate New York, and went to college to get a degree in Economics. While attending UC Berkeley, he began to help out in a local elementary school in exchange for college credit. He really enjoyed it. He helped out in a classroom and also became Louis the Yard Teacher (as the kids called him).

When he graduated from university, Sachar started working a regular job, at a warehouse, but he also began writing a story about a really crazy elementary school: Sideways Stories from Wayside School

At first nobody was promoting his book, and it wasn't selling very well. Sachar decided to go to law school, and while he did that, word-of-mouth about his subversive and funny Wayside School book began to spread. 

By the time Sachar graduated from law school, he had a fans! 

Sachar was able do legal work part time and write part time, and soon he was able to write full time.

The Econ major / law school graduate had become a children's literature icon!


March 19 – Bob Dylan's First!

Posted on March 19, 2018

On this date in 1962, the album Bob Dylan was released by Columbia Records.

Dylan (who was born Robert Allen Zimmerman) had dropped out of college to travel to New York City. He wanted to visit his hero, Woodie Gurthrie, who was seriously ill. He wanted to immerse himself in the folk music scene. He wanted to perform!

Dylan started to get known in the American folk music scene. He explained later that rock'n'roll had appealing, driving beats, but that the lyrics just didn't speak to him. They were catchy instead of deep, fun instead of serious.

Dylan was so serious, he got the record deal with Columbia.

And he was so serious that many of his songs were labeled as protest songs.

As a matter of fact, Dylan came to be labeled as "the voice of a generation."

And...what a voice! Dylan's voice was pretty rough, and that turned some people off. But it was a stand-out for others. Author Joyce Carol Oates wrote: "When we first heard this raw, very young, and seemingly untrained voice, frankly nasal, as if sandpaper could sing, the effect was dramatic and electrifying."

Folk musician Joan Baez was
an early promoter of Dylan.

Dylan's early songs were more popular, at first at least, when other singers sang them. It was easier for most audiences to enjoy melodious, mellifluous voices singing songs like Blowing in the Wind and The Times They Are a-Changin.' 

But some of the people who sang Dylan songs dragged him up on stage with them during shows and promoted him in other ways - and soon audiences knew and loved Dylan songs sung by Dylan.

In all the years since the early 1960s, Dylan didn't stick with just one kind of music, just one kind of song. He's written what some people consider popular music (Like a Rolling Stone), rock, blues, and country. He's explored gospel, rockabilly, even Irish folk music and jazz! He's performed on guitar, harmonica, and keyboards, he's sung, he's recorded - but his greatest contribution, surely, is his songwriting.

Blowing in the Wind is one of Dylan's best. This video was crafted by a Brazilian person, I guess, who writes at the end (in Portuguese), "One day this world, now dominated by some, has to again belong to all."

I grew up listening to The Times, They Are a-Changin' covered by Simon and Garfunkel. Check out Dylan's version and the S&G cover

Check out these words of wisdom from Dylan: