Hello and Happy Birthday! Only half of that applies to most of the world, but this past week it seemed like everyone I know and admire celebrated a birthday bash of sorts. It certainly felt like my birthday on Saturday as Ohio State finally showed the performance they had been holding back all season long much to the extreme dismay of their rivals on the other side of the border. The only thing more satisfying than seeing the Buckeyes blast the Wolverines 42-13 in their own stadium was watching the game with my new friend who had been talking smack all week about how her Wolverines were going to win but had nothing more than a glum frown when I pointed out, “You’re being awfully quiet right now,” in the third quarter. I was gracious and bought her some sympathy drinks later that evening while at a birthday bar crawl for one of my coworkers, and did the same for my oldest friend who actually graduated from that school up north when he arrived on the scene. Such is the key to maintaining a friendship with such a great divide within it: being generous with copious amounts of alcohol to the loser. Fortunately, I’ve only been on the side of defeat once since turning 21, and I will happily continue to pick up round after round on the fourth Saturday of November.
As fun as Saturday was for me and my friends, the birthday celebration of my coworker is not as globally resonant as the ones for two of my greatest inspirational heroes. I’m going to tell you a little about each and recommend some reading and television watching that you very well may have done multiple times before, however they are good enough to take another look at, just like Ohio State’s victory this past Saturday.
Today is the 180th birthday of Mark Twain, the legendary American author whose wit is immortalized in countless quotes (that are often misquoted) and in the award named for him, the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor presented by the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. Born Samuel Langhorne Clemens, Mark Twain adopted his much better known pen name when he was a young pilot on a riverboat on the Mississippi River. The term “mark twain” is a boating term for two fathoms, or 12 feet, a safe traveling depth for Mississippi riverboats. Twain’s career on a riverboat was cut short by the Civil War, and he later failed as a miner. Twain did begin to find success as a writer and worked as a journalist, but his true calling was discovered in his fiction, first notably with his story “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County” which was published in 1865.
Many more classics would follow, including The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1876), The Prince and the Pauper (1881), A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court (1889), and his most revered work, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1885) which is hailed as The Great American Novel by many. It is definitely a contender and a must-read.
I confess that I have not read an extensive amount of Twain, but what I have is special. Twain’s style and substance is far above most other writers I have read, and it clearly endures as a favorite of casual readers and critics alike. I remember thoroughly enjoying and being touched by The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, and one of my personal favorites is The Mysterious Stranger, which features an unlikely protagonist that you may be surprised to sympathize with, even if you’re not one of The Rolling Stones (it’s about the Devil coming up to Earth and befriending some boys).
In his life, Twain not only created some of the most memorable characters in literature, but met some of the most incredible people of his time. He met and befriended the electrifying inventors Nikola Tesla and Thomas Edison. When he ran into money troubles in the 1890s, Twain was helped out by Henry Huttleston Rogers, the oil tycoon/philanthropist whom I wrote about in my greatest titled post in regards to his impact on Helen Keller’s education.
Mark Twain was born and died close to the passing of Halley’s Comet in 1835 and 1910 respectively. He correctly predicted that he would die with the comet’s return, a point that he would reiterate in 1897 when a journalist mixed up Twain’s cousin’s ailing health with his own which led to the widespread rumor that Twain had died. Twain would answer this misconception by saying “The report of my death was an exaggeration” not the oft-misquoted “rumors of my death are greatly exaggerated”, although both are hilarious and display Twain’s humor perfectly.
Just last Friday on November 27, one of my still-living heroes of science and life in general turned 60 and America was too busy clawing over itself for discounted tech and clothing to notice. Shame on us! How could we fail the man who truly taught me seventh grade science? I speak of the one and only BILL NYE THE SCIENCE GUY! BILL! BILL! BILL! BILL!
No one has made science so much fun except for maybe the Mythbusters, yet no one can reach children with basic and advanced concepts better than Bill Nye. His likable personality and dad-joke level humor makes him a prime candidate for teaching young minds. His natural teaching abilities are something he shares with his friend and colleague Neil deGrasse Tyson, and their mentor Carl Sagan.
The 100 episodes of Bill Nye the Science Guy that Nye filmed in Seattle from 1993-1998 is what Nye is best known for, but he has always been a brilliant scientific mind with a specialty (and indeed an Ivy League degree) in mechanical engineering. He has given many lectures on various subjects pertaining to natural sciences, but his greatest efforts of education are increasing public awareness, and sadly acceptance, of global climate change, as well as a war against the ignorance of Creationism. Last year in February, he debated Ken Ham at the Creation Museum – which is of course in Kentucky (if you’re from Kentucky and hate the stereotypical backwoods, uneducated reputation of the state, then get rid of shit like that). Some of his peers in the scientific community criticized Nye for participating in the debate, and ultimately those who watched it were not swayed from the side they supported going in, but I admire Nye’s insistence that Creationism is a danger to innovation and his courage to attempt to do something about it. From a logic standpoint he owned that debate, but that tends to happen when you have empirical evidence to support your claims and the other guy keeps repeating the same passages out of a non-scientific book.
Nye’s penchant for being on one side of a debate is evident in his numerous appearances on many programs throughout the years to defend the scientifically supported claim of anthropogenic climate change. John Oliver did an excellent job explaining how this truly is not a debate no matter how television programs like to present it.
Bill Nye is a frequent collaborator of educational scientific presentations with Neil deGrasse Tyson and others and shows no signs of stopping bringing us lessons of how the universe and everything in it work anytime soon. I, for one, am ecstatic for that.
Thanks for reading! I hope your Thanksgiving was a good time and that the approaching holidays will be as well. In addition to the success of my football team, I was excited by the first look at what is already one of my most anticipated films of next year and what may be the best Marvel movie since The Avengers. Am I getting my hopes up too high, or are things finally clicking for them? We’ll see, but I love the look of William Hurt already. And hopefully we’ll see you back here next week for more words of warmth on a cold day. If you can’t wait that long, you can always hit me up at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Happy Unbirthday to the rest of you all,