Monday, January 28, 2013

January 29 is Puzzle Day, Freethinkers Day, Curmudgeons Day

The Usual Suspects proclaim Tuesday Puzzle Day, but we've been unable to puzzle out why.

The Usual Suspects also proclaim Tuesday Freethinkers Day, largely because January 29 is the anniversary of Thomas Paine's birth (in England, in 1737). Paine was the author of the pamphlet Common Sense, a work that was deemed inspirational to so many in the revolutionary generation. A later pamphlet, The American Crisis, so impressed George Washington that he ordered it read to his troops. You will recall the opening lines:
These are the times that try men's souls: The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like Hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph.
But Paine was a man who could get along with no one for long, and when he wore out his welcome in this country, he moved to France to help incite their revolution -- only to wind up arrested and condemned to death. He was saved from the French 'National Razor' (the guillotine) in 1794 only by the personal intervention of the American Minister to France, James Monroe.

W.C. Fields image obtained from Wikipedia.
Paine showed his gratitude to his adopted country by turning on George Washington. (According to his Wikipedia biography, Paine became convinced that somehow Washington had conspired with Robespierre to have Paine imprisoned.) In an open letter to Washington, published in 1796, Paine wrote, "the world will be puzzled to decide whether you are an apostate or an impostor; whether you have abandoned good principles or whether you ever had any."

After wearing out his welcome with Napoleon, Paine was invited back to the United States in 1802 by President Thomas Jefferson. Paine survived until 1809.

Paine also wrote extensively -- and critically -- about organized religion; it is these writings that link him to Freethinkers Day.

William Claude Dukenfield was born on January 29, 1880. You may be forgiven for not recognizing that name; his fame was achieved under the name of W.C. Fields. According to Wikipedia, Woody Allen once said Fields was one of only six genuine comic geniuses in movie history. Charlie McCarthy's assessment of Fields was somewhat harsher.

Fields' on-screen persona was curmudgeonly in the extreme. The anniversary of Fields' birth therefore inspires some of the Usual Suspects to proclaim January 29 as Curmudgeons Day. Of course, the host and proprietor of Second Effort thinks that January 29 honors him. Let's not disillusion him, shall we?

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