Monday July 31, 2017

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A young man climbed up Mount Rainier
On a day that was perfectly clear
And through his telescope
He watched a big dope
Steal his bicycle and disappear.

There was a young lady of Newark
Who rode a train daily to work
Then returned to the station
For the same transportation
At six o’clock when she was through work.

An old Lutheran near Owatonna
Raised ten acres of marijuana.
It went up in a blaze
And for seventeen days
He had visions of the Blessed Madonna.

A young fellow left Puget Sound
To move to Spokane and he found
That he hated blue sky
And the air was too dry
And the coffee improperly ground.

Limericks by Gary Johnson. Used with permission of the author. 

Today is the birthday of the woman Teddy Roosevelt once called "the most dangerous woman in America" when she was 87 years old. Mary Harris Jones, or "Mother Jones" (books by this author), was born to a tenant farmer in Cork, Ireland, in 1837. Her family fled the potato famine when she was just 10, resettling in Toronto. She trained to be a teacher and took a job in Memphis, where on the eve of the Civil War she married a union foundry worker and started a family. But in 1867, a yellow fever epidemic swept through the city, taking the lives of her husband and all four children. A widow at 30, she moved to Chicago and built a successful dressmaking business — only to lose everything in the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. Jones then threw herself into the city's bustling labor movement, where she worked in obscurity for the next 20 years. By the turn of the century, she emerged as a charismatic speaker and one of the country's leading labor organizers, co-founding the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW).

She traveled the country to wherever there was labor struggle, sometimes evading company security by wading the riverbed into town, earning her the nickname "The Miner's Angel." She used storytelling, the Bible, humor, and even coarse language to reach a crowd. She said: "I asked a man in prison once how he happened to be there and he said he had stolen a pair of shoes. I said if he had stolen a railroad, he would be a United States Senator." Jones also had little patience for hesitation, volunteering to lead a strike "if there were no men present." A passionate critic of child labor, she organized a children's march from Philadelphia to the home of Theodore Roosevelt in Oyster Bay, New York with banners reading, "We want to go to school and not the mines!" At the age of 88, she published a first-person account of her time in the labor movement called The Autobiography of Mother Jones (1925). She died at the age of 93 and is buried at a miners' cemetery in Mt. Olive, Illinois.

She said: "Whatever the fight, don't be ladylike."

It's the birthday of the British author of the "Harry Potter" series: J.K. Rowling (books by this author), born in Yate, near Bristol, in 1965. She was born Joanne, with no middle name; when the time came to publish her first book, Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone (1997), her publishers wanted initials rather than her first and last name. She needed a middle initial, so she took her grandmother's name: Kathleen. She studied French in college, and after college she went to work for Amnesty International as a secretary. She was on a train coming home to London from a weekend looking at flats in Manchester in 1990, when she suddenly got the idea for a novel. "I was looking out of the window at some cows, I believe and I just thought: 'Boy doesn't know he's a wizard — goes off to wizard school,'" she said in an interview with Stephen Fry. "I have no idea where it came from. I think the idea was floating along the train and looking for someone, and my mind was vacant enough, so it decided to zoom in there." She found a publisher in 1996, and was paid an advance of £1,500, about $2,500. Six more books followed. Her rags-to-riches story is legendary: In five years' time, she went from being on public assistance to being a multimillionaire. She's now one of the richest women in Britain, even richer than the queen, and Forbes magazine estimates her net worth at 1 billion U.S. dollars.

Her readings are wildly popular now, and people come to them in costume, but that was not always the case. At her first reading, attendance was so sparse that the bookstore had to have their employees fill some of the seats. She appeared a few years ago at the Royal Albert Hall, and told the audience, "This is the nearest I'll ever get to being a Beatle, hearing you all shouting. It was very nice. I see myself as the George Harrison."

She's often asked to give advice to aspiring young writers, and her answer is always the same: "Read as much as you possibly can. Nothing will help you as much as reading and you'll go through a phase where you will imitate your favourite writers and that's fine because that's a learning experience too."

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®