July 19 – Happy Birthday, Masahiko Kondō

Posted on July 19, 2018

Masahiko Kondō was always interested in driving race cars, and he was already famous as a singer when he was accepted onto a racing team.

And...when he was accepted onto a racing team, he was just 19 years old.


I did a double-take when I read that, and then I checked further: it turns out that Kondō, who was born in Japan on this date in 1964, was just 16 years old when he debuted his first single, "Sneaker Blues." It shot straight to number 1 on the Oricon weekly single charts - and it stayed there for five weeks! "Sneaker Blues" went on to sell over a million copies. Kondō's first album also topped the charts - and since he was still 16 at that point, he became the youngest solo male singer to have a debut album reach number 1.

So he was way famous (in Japan) at a very early age, and when he decided to race cars, he did pretty well at that, too. "Moderately successful" is how some people describe Kondō's racing career.

During his racing years, Kondō did a bit of recording here and there. He dedicated himself fully to racing in 1998, but in 2005 he rededicated himself to music. Since he won the Japan Record Awards for "Best Singer" in 2010, I'd say his Singing Career 2.0 went pretty well...

Fame begets fame...

Painting by Jim Carrey
It's so much easier to make money if you already have money, and it's much easier to become famous in one area if you are already famous in another area. For example, both actor Jim Carrey and former president George W. Bush have been painting - and certainly their art ability exists, but they have gotten way, way, way more attention for their portraits because they are already famous than the average talented painter has. 

Paintings by George W. Bush
Painting by Yayoi Kusama
For example, Yayoi Kusama has achieved success as an artist, but her works and her name have never come to my attention, not once, whereas Carrey's and Bush's art have been featured on websites and TV shows so often that I have seen their paintings several times.

Painting by Clay Wagstaff
If you think, well, that's because Kusama is Japanese, and Carrey and Bush and you are all American, the same exact paragraph I typed above is true of American artist Clay Wagstaff.

I think we all have it in us to achieve lots of different sorts of goals. We need to decide what we want to become expert in now, what we want to express now, and how, and what we want to achieve in the near future. Developing a focus can certainly help us in the short run. But we should keep in mind that we may well be able to achieve expertise and success in other areas, too, maybe years from now...we may be able to express other things later, or express ourselves in other ways, in the future...

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July 18 – Happy Birthday, Molly Brown

Posted on July 18, 2018

Okay, today's famous birthday wasn't named "Molly"; she was Margaret. And her nickname was "Maggie."

But this brave and caring woman ended up inspiring a Broadway musical and a movie, and in those she was immortalized as Molly Brown, so, here we are.

Born on this date in 1867, Margaret Tobin planned to marry a rich man but ended up marrying a poor man, for love. However, Mrs. Brown found herself rich, anyway, since her husband's work in mining engineering paid off in a big way. 

The Browns bought a mansion in Denver and built a summer house in a nearby area called Bear Creek. Maggie Brown went from working in a department store, as a single woman, to entertaining, patronizing the arts, becoming fluent in four languages, traveling, and doing social and charitable work. Brown did everything from work in soup kitchens to fundraising for churches, from helping poor kids to helping establish the first juvenile court in the country - helping to create the foundation for the entire U.S. juvenile court system!

She also raised two kids.

She already sounds fairly remarkable to me, but none of that stuff is the reason for her fame. Instead, it's because she took a certain sea voyage...

...At age 45, Brown booked first-class passage on the RMS Titanic. And you know what happened to the Titanic, right?

When the ship started to sink, Brown helped evacuate the ship, helping others into the lifeboats. When she was finally persuaded to get into a lifeboat herself (Lifeboat No. 6), she took an oar herself but argued that they should go back and save more people. Quartermaster Robert Hichens was in charge of Lifeboat 6, and he argued that they couldn't go back for more. He may have been aware of the suction effect of a sinking ship, he may have been afraid that too many people would try to get onto their boat and sink the lifeboat, he may have just been scared and selfish. Who knows? He may have been right to say "no," or he may have been wrong - again, who knows?

What I find surprising is that Brown threatened to throw him overboard, she felt so passionately that he was wrong.

And what I find really surprising is that we don't actually know whether or not Lifeboat 6 actually DID go back, and whether or not they found anyone alive. The reason we don't know these things is because different sources give different reports on these two points.

At any rate, whatever happened as a result of Brown's efforts, we do know that she survived. Not only that, she organized a survivors' committee with other first-class survivors to get basic necessities for second- and third-class survivors. The committee even provided informal counseling to survivors!

Brown went on to run for Senate, to work rebuilding France after World War I, helping wounded French and American soldiers, and championing other important causes. 

I don't know how this happened, but the last few years of her life, Brown acted! She died of an undiagnosed brain tumor.

A quarter century after her death, a fictionalized version of Brown's life came to life in a musical that was popular on Broadway for more than a year - that launched a movie starring Debbie Reynolds - that was brought back several times - and that inspired Readers' Theater versions in Denver. The play and movie were called The Unsinkable Molly Brown.

Actor Priyanka Chopra's birthday

Actor Kristen Bell's birthday

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July 17 – Happy Birthday, Angela Merkel

Posted on July 17, 2018

Today's famous people has been called "the Leader of the Free World."

First - wow! A woman is the "Leader of the Free World"?

That's very cool!

Second - what does "Leader of the Free World" even mean?

Well, during the Cold War (the hostile-but-not-actually-fighting-battles relationship between the Soviet bloc countries and the U.S.-led Western powers, from 1945 to 1990), people used to say that the American president, whoever it was at the time, was the Leader of the Free World.

But when Donald Trump was elected to the presidency, he was so unpopular at home and abroad, so vigorously protested and resisted by so many, many political observers pointed out that he had abdicated the informal title of Leader of the Free World. These commenters have gone on to say that the Chancellor of Germany, Angela Merkel, who is the de facto leader of the European Union, was now the Leader of the Free World.

Angela Merkel knows something about freedom, because, although she was born on this date in 1954 in what was then West Germany, when she was just three months old her parents moved her to East Germany. She grew up behind the "Iron Curtain," which means that the Soviet Union put into place a communist regime and continued to wield influence on the nation.

Merkel has said that the building of the Berlin Wall, when she was just 7 years old, was her first political memory. She has talked about people being stunned to see the wall, which was thrown up around the West German portion of Berlin overnight. Adults - including her parents - cried. 

You see, West Berlin was a bit of democracy in the Soviet-controlled nation, a way for East Germans to escape to freedom. That West Berlin was used as an escape hatch or loophole is of course exactly why that wall was built. Note that the wall was meant to keep citizens in, it was not meant to keep foreigners out.

Merkel's upbringing in a Soviet-bloc nation meant that she was mandated to study the Russian language and was heavily pressured to join the official communist youth movement. However, she resisted some of the dictates of the ruling culture, participating in religious practices, for example, and helping with a student-run project.

Merkel studied physics in university was awarded a doctorate for her work in quantum chemistry. She worked as a scientific researcher and published several papers, but she turned down a professorship job she wanted because it would have involved spying on her colleagues for the government.

When the Berlin Wall came down in late 1989 inspired Merkel to get involved in politics, as she joined the democracy movement and then became the deputy spokesperson for the government that was put into place by East Germany's first and last free, multi-party election. Soon East Germany and West Germany were unified into one nation, in 1990.

In the first federal election after reunification, Merkel was voted into parliament. She became chancellor when her party formed a coalition with another party in order to form a viable government, and the majority of delegates of the two parties chose her to lead. That was in 2005. She's headed Germany, and to some extent Europe and even the world, ever since.

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