Tuesday Aug. 16, 2016

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about competition

the higher you climb
the greater the pressure.

those who manage to
that the distance
between the
top and the

and those who
this secret:
there isn’t

“about competition” by Charles Bukowski from Sifting Through the Madness for the Word, the Line, the Way. © Ecco, 2004. Reprinted with permission.  (buy now)

Today is the birthday of English philosopher and playwright Catharine Trotter Cockburn (1679) (books by this author), born in London. Not much is known of her childhood, except that her father, a sea captain, died of the plague when Catharine was four, and the family struggled to get by. She was a precocious child and taught herself to read and write at an early age. Her first novel, Adventures of a Young Lady (1693), was published anonymously when she was 14. She also learned French and Latin, and was a moderately successful playwright; her first play, Agnes de Castro, was produced when she was just 16, and she wrote and staged four more in the next few years. When she wasn't writing plays, she was reading philosophy, mostly the work of John Locke. She published her first philosophical essay, The Defence of Mr. Lock's [sic] Essay of Human Understanding (1702), at the age of 23, and Locke was so impressed that he sent her money and books. She married clergyman Patrick Cockburn in 1708, and gave up writing until 1726. She went on to publish two more works of moral philosophy; these, along with her letters, were published as her collected works after her death in 1749.

It's the birthday of novelist and editor William Maxwell (1908) (books by this author). He was born in Lincoln, Illinois, and his writing features small-town, middle-American life in the early 20th century. He joined the staff of The New Yorker in 1936, and he worked there for 40 years, first in the art department and later as a fiction editor. He was beloved by such contributors as John Cheever, J.D. Salinger, Vladimir Nabokov, and John Updike. Working with their manuscripts had a side benefit: "I came, as a result of being an editor, to look for whatever was unnecessary in my own writing," he said in a 1995 interview. "After 40 years, what I came to care about most was not style, but the breath of life."

On this date in 1989, a geomagnetic storm shut down Toronto's stock market. The primary and backup computer systems at the Toronto exchange failed, one right after the other, for the first time since the systems were installed 26 years earlier. Since no one could access the market information that was crucial for trading, the exchange shut down for three hours and all trades were diverted to Montreal.

Scientists blamed the Sun. The geomagnetic storm was caused by an increase in solar flares. These in turn produced in a coronal mass ejection (CME), flinging high levels of solar radiation toward the Earth. The radiation affected microchips and caused computer problems across North America. A similar storm the previous March had taken out the Hydro-Quebec power grid, depriving 6 million people of power for nine hours. And a five-day megastorm in 1859 fried telegraph wires all over the United States and Europe, and the aurora borealis was seen as far south as Mexico, Hawaii, and Italy.

Now that scientists are aware of the effects of CMEs, they monitor solar activity and keep an eye out for such events, which usually take at least a day and a half to reach Earth's magnetosphere. With that lead time, power grids and satellites can be temporarily taken off line to protect them from permanent damage.

It's the birthday of the man Time magazine called "the laureate of American lowlife": Charles Bukowski (books by this author), born Heinrich Karl Bukowski in Andernach, Germany (1920). His father was an American soldier, and his mother was German. They moved back to the States when the boy was two years old, and he grew up in Los Angeles, a scrawny kid who was frequently bullied. He had his first drink at 13: "It was magic," he later wrote. "Why hadn't someone told me?"

He published his first short story when he was 24, but got discouraged by all the rejection slips that followed, and didn't write again until he was 35. He published his first book of poetry, called Flower, Fist, and Bestial Wail, in 1959. He once said that his work was 93 percent autobiographical; it featured his alter ego, Henry Chinaski, a writer who works at a variety of unskilled jobs, drinks heavily, and takes up with loose women.

Bukowski said, "Bad luck for the young poet would be a rich father, an early marriage, an early success or the ability to do anything well."

On this date in 1896, gold was discovered in the Yukon Territory in Canada, sparking the Klondike Gold Rush. George Carmack, Skookum Jim Mason, and Tagish Charlie found the gold in Rabbit Creek, near Dawson. They christened the creek "Bonanza Creek," and word spread among the locals, who staked claims and were soon gathering up the plentiful ore.

The discovery of large amounts of gold didn't hit the Seattle and San Francisco newspapers for almost a year, but when it did, a hundred thousand people set off for the Yukon to make their fortunes. A few thousand did indeed strike it rich, but the rest made the arduous journey for nothing. There are famous photographs of the long lines of prospectors and their pack animals trekking through the snowy mountains, all of them heavy laden because the Mounties required everyone to bring a year's supply of provisions. But starvation was not uncommon, and one man reportedly boiled his own boot so he could drink the broth. His story inspired the famous boot-eating scene in Charlie Chaplin's silent feature The Gold Rush (1925).

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