Thursday, December 21, 2006

2006 First Annual Holiday Spectacular

The current controversies over religion leads to the question of whether this is really a Holiday Spectacular or secretly a Christmas Spectacular? At risk of offending my Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Zoroastrian and Pokemon readers, you might want to know why this blog is so Christmas heavy.

The truth is I just love Christmas. It wins the popularity contest. I like the trees with their pine smell, the lights, the movies, the bells, the big guy in the red suit, the reindeer, the food, and most of all, the songs. I even sense, on occasion, that there is a little Christmas spirit out there (just people trying to be a little nicer, however briefly). It’s not a religious thing at all. Frankly, I happily take the Christ right out of Christmas. No Christian group has a copyright on good tunes, pretty lights, trees or eggnog.

I have good memories of Chanukah from my youth: the smell of the candles, the dreidel game, gold foil covered chocolate money, and, of course, the presents. But I admit that I am not even sure I say Chanukah right. I know the first version of this post spelled dreidel wrong. There are only three Chanukah songs I know of: Dreidel, Dreidel, Adam Sandler’s Chanukah Song and one in Hebrew which name I don’t know. Let’s face it, Dreidel, Dreidel is right up there with Barney’s I Love You, You Love Me, and no one is going to get the celebrity references to Sandler’s song 30 years from now (I guess they could update them). There are dozens of great Christmas songs, movies and whatnot.

But, what the hell. It’s officially a Holiday Spectacular and I hope there is something for everybody. Why not. Everybody’s welcome.

Before we start, I’d like to thank everyone who reads this on at least a semi-regular basis, and I enjoy your occasional comments. To share with you the success of this blog, I will reveal that Ad-Sense, which puts up those advertisements you see, has entered into a contract with me (didn’t that sound impressive – actually, any blog can have one with them; it takes a few minutes on-line) where I let them put ads on my blog and they pay me, I think per hit. I’m not exactly sure how it works, but I am about to receive a check for 12 cents. Your eyes do not deceive you. I may have to get a job.

Here are the Holiday Spectacular lists you’ve been waiting for since September.

Best holiday movies

10. Scrooge (the musical with Albert Finney)
9. White Christmas (I liked it better than the original -- Holiday Inn)
8. A Christmas Story
7. It’s a Wonderful Life
6. Serendipity
5. Love, Actually
4. When Harry Met Sally
3. Elf
2. March of the Wooden Soldiers
1. Miracle on 34th Street (The original, and only, the original version)

Many people would put It’s a Wonderful Life first, and it’s easy to see its charms. But Jimmy Stewart can get on your nerves sometimes with all that stammering. There were times I wished Clarence got delayed at the transfer station in Limbo for a few minutes before coming to the rescue. Arguments can also be made that When Harry Met Sally is properly a romantic comedy, but much of the movie has to do with the holiday season, and the story ends on New Years’ Eve. Elf is the only recent movie on the list, but already one of my favorite movies, period. Miracle on 34th Street and March of the Wooden Soldiers probably have a lock on one and two for the rest of history (or my life, which ever ends first).

Best Holiday Songs:

10. Joy to the World (Whitney Houston)
9. Feliz Navidad
8. Messiah/Hallelujah Chorus
7. Frosty the Snow Man (Jimmy Durante)
6. Carol of the Bells
5. Zat you, Santa Claus (Louis Armstrong)
4. Let it Snow! Let it Snow! Let it Snow! (Dean Martin)
3. Snoopy’s Christmas
2. All I Want for Christmas is You
1. Baby, its cold outside (Doris Day and Bing Crosby)

This was a really difficult category. Most likely, if I waited a few days, the order would be different and some other songs would replace some of those in the list. Smoke comes out of my ears when I hear anyone else make covers of these songs. Let me make this clear for all recording artists. Not one of you should ever, ever, ever make another recording of Baby, Its Cold Outside, Let it Snow! Let it Snow! Let it Snow!, Frosty the Snow Man or Joy to the World. Ever! If you have never heard the rarely played Louis Armstrong piece, you should look for it.

Best Holiday Books

5. Maccabees (Some Old Testaments)
4. The Gospels
3. A Christmas Story (Jean Shepherd)
2. The Gift of the Magi (the O’Henry short story)
1. A Christmas Carol

Best posts of 2006

5. Did I Tell You I Hate Cell Phones (11/20)
4. An Electrifying Genius (12/13)
3. A Day of Thunder and Lightning (11/02)
2. A Holiday Tale of Murder and Rape in Old New York (11/29)
1. Read This on the Night Before Christmas (9/13)

If you are wondering why this is a holiday category, the top three all have winter holiday references.

Five Best Holiday Images

5. Tom Nash’s Santa Claus
4. Yule Log show on WPIX
3. Breugel's Hunters in the Snow

2. Skating rink at Rockefeller Center, NY
1. Skating rink at Somerset House, London

I feel guilty leaving off Coca Cola's wonderful collection of Santa Claus images, but there are so many of them, I did not know which to choose. Honorable mention.

Ten Best Christmas Day Historical Events

10. 12/25/1741 – Celsius introduced Celsius temperature scale.
9. 12/25/1868 – President Andrew Johnson pardoned all the Southern rebels.
8. 12/25/1758 – First sighting of Halley’s comet.
7. 12/25/1651 – Massachusetts Court announced fine for Christmas celebration.
6. 12/25/1908 – Jack Johnson became first black heavyweight champion.
5. 12/25/1950 – Scotland’s coronation Stone of Scone stolen from Westminster Abbey.
4. 12/25/1066 – William the Conqueror crowned King of England.
3. 12/25/800 – Charlemagne crowned Emperor of Holy Roman Empire.
2. 12/25/1914 – Unofficial WWI Christmas truce between British and German troops.
1. 12/25/1776 – Washington crossed the Delaware and surprises Hessians.

Five Best New Years Birthday

5. 1/1/1735 – Paul Revere
4. 1/1/1895 – J. Edgar Hoover
3. 1/1/1942 – Country Joe McDonald
2. 1/1/1909 – Barry Goldwater
1. 1/1/1908 – Tess Berger (my aunt)

Five Best Holiday Ironies

5. St. Nicholas was Turkish (way before the Muslims).
4. Chanukah celebrates the Jewish victory over the Hellenistic Greeks who had taken over the Persian Empire. Ignored is the fact that the new independent Hasmodean Kingdom that came out of it made an alliance with Rome, which led to its long loss of independence.
3. White Christmas was written by a Jewish guy (Irving Berlin).
2. The Poinsettia plant is from Mexico, not the first country that pops into your mind when you think Christmas. It was brought to America by the a 19th century Mexican ambassador, Joseph Poinsett.
1. Chanukah is “the festival of lights,” but Christians, not Jews, decorate their houses with hundreds or thousands of lights. Go figure.

Thanks again for your support and have a happy holiday.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Is it 2008 already?

I love that the campaigning has started already. Apparently, it started earlier this year with multiple pandering by hopefuls in New Hampshire, where likely the first primary will be held (at least they insist they be first), and Iowa, where a caucus of party activists will be held even earlier. A commercial begging Obama to jump in will shortly hit the airwaves in D.C. and New Hampshire.

I wanted to jump into the fray with my predictions for the 2008 election, way ahead of anyone else. Here’s a list of the early hopefuls and their respective chances at to be nominated and win the brass ring, in no particular order.

Tom Vilsack. Two term governor of Iowa until January, 2007. Since nobody, and I mean nobody, outside of Iowa, or who is not a political junky has ever heard of him, he is apparently counting on his popularity in Iowa to help him win there, jump starting him to the nomination. He was the first Democratic governor in the State in 30 years, which is impressive, as it is still a very Republican State. He was the first candidate to officially announce. Don’t give too much hope to Tom. I give him NO CHANCE UNLESS EVERYONE ELSE DIES. In a poll earlier this year he came in fourth behind Clinton, Edwards and, GREAT SCOTT, even John Kerry. When you lose to Kerry in your own state, you should be thinking twice about running. Of course, when this poll was taken nobody was going nuts about Barack Obama yet, and he obviously would have beat Vilsack. Then, again, after Kerry's flub before the 2006 elections made him radioactive, he couldn't beat Dukakis in a run off, so maybe Vilsack would still be fourth. No matter. Good luck on your next career, Tom, and stop wasting your supporters’ money.

Evan Bayh. A senator from Indiana, another Democrat in a red state, and son of a former presidential candidate, Senator Birch Bayh, he was sort of thought of as the anti-Hillary for a while. He’s got that presidential look about him, but doesn’t have a real national following. His name recognition is really his father's name recognition. He does not have any committee chairmanships in the Senate, and even the committees he’s on don’t get a lot of recognition. However, he is seen as a moderate in his party. He called for Rumsfeld’s resignation very early, now a popular move even among Republicans, and has called for tough measures against Iran. He may get some votes in the Iowa caucus from his state’s proximity, but don’t count on it. If he enters, he will wind up fifth or worse there, and will fold. I give him NO CHANCE UNLESS EVERYONE ELSE DIES. If I were him I would go back to my real name, which is really Birch Evan Bayh, III. His father still has better name recognition than he does.

Joe Biden. United States Senator from Delaware. Sometimes I like this intelligent Senator, or at least some of his ideas. But his self-aggrandizement and whining during the Senatorial hearings for Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts was just embarrassing. I wish I had had a rock to crawl under when he cried to the Chairman, “But, he’s not answering the questions. Wah, wah, waaaah”. One of his questions was so long it ate up most of his time to inquire, before Roberts even got a chance to answer. He actually makes a better chairman than he does an opposition member. I agree with Biden that we should let Iraq split up into 3 separate sectors (I’ve been for that since we invaded) and often find he has intriguing ideas, but the great majority of Americans will find him pompous and BOOOOORIIIINNGGG. The last time he ran for president was in 1988. He was humiliated by being caught plagiarizing a British politician’s speech. The really weird part was that Biden told part of the British pol's life story as if it were his own. Now, that’s just strange. To be fair, on past occasions he had given credit to Neil Kinnock, the Brit, for the story, but for some reason didn't in Iowa. Somehow I think that is coming up again, and again, if he ends up running. Should by some miracle he win, then we are going to have to impeach him immediately, or we may all have to shoot ourselves in the head, to get his endless talking out of our minds. But, he also gets a NO CHANCE UNLESS EVERYONE ELSE DIES. Did I mention his middle name is Robinette? That’s worse than Milhouse, for crying out loud.

Hillary Clinton. United States Senator from New York and former First Lady. Is she even the front runner anymore, now that Obama has publicly stated he may throw his hat in? Some have suggested a Clinton/Obama ticket, but that is just asking for trouble. A woman president and a black vice president all at the same time. If they were the right ones, I’d say the country was ready. But they are not, and we are not. Hillary’s big problem is that she is the most polarizing force in the country. Personally, I always liked her husband and never understood the impulsive dislike of him and her by conservatives. On the other hand, I have never voted for her in either election. She has fought hard to remodel herself as a tough moderate. Since a Senator, she has gained a lot of fans, some even from the Republican side of the aisle. Nevertheless, she will energize the conservative base in this country like not even Christ could do if he came down out of the cloud’s with Vote for Jesus buttons and Judgment Day t-shirts. She will not make Gore’s mistake and run away from the still popular Bill Clinton (how could she). Bill, who will revel in his potential first husband status, will be a huge plus for her. The Republicans never understood, or could stand, that most Americans liked him. Hillary, is no Bill, and makes an awful speech, like fingers on a blackboard. My advice to her is don’t ever even try and get the crowd going. You sound like an angry duck. But, then again, have you ever heard the present President speak? Not so good. I give her A BETTER CHANCE THAN ANYONE ELSE RIGHT NOW to win the nomination. But I give her only a slight chance to win a general election for president.

Barack ObamaThe first term U.S. Senator from Illinois with a bullet. Who the hell knows. Right now he is being lauded as savior, sex symbol and rock star. What does he stand for? I guess we will all learn when his oppthe other Democratic candidates paint him as too inexperienced and too far left (Rush Limbaugh has already described his voting in the Illinois State Senate as Marxist). If he wins, the Republicans will pick up on that and defend the name calling by reminding everyone that other Democrats did it first. Obama seems to understand the whole religious angle, which is something he has over Hillary (Bill was good at that part, but she has not shown herself to have that ability). The atheist writer, Sam Harris wrote in his book The End of Faith:
“[W] live in a country in which a person cannot get elected president if he openly doubts the existence of heaven and hell. . . In our next presidential election, an actor who reads his Bible would almost certainly defeat a rocket scientist who does not”.
Barack can fill this role better than any potential candidate in either party. Although I give him only THE BEST CHANCE TO BEAT HILLARY I believe his social skills, religious base, and yes, his dark skin and Caucasian features, will give a better chance than her to win the general election, no matter what his political beliefs are, unless there is some scandal waiting out there to do him in. Put a gun to my head, I say he won’t beat Hillary in the primaries. One of those unknowns will do him in.

Sam Brownback. The Senator from Kansas who replaced Bob Dole when he ran for President. Sam, sit down. Don’t even go there, really. You are just too conservative. That’s all there is to it. No matter what you run on, what issues you raise, what speeches you make, you cannot get past the fact that you are more religious than all but a minority of Americans wants in a leader. Being in favor of teaching intelligent design and calling abortions the holocaust will not go over well with any but the really, really, really, conservative. Despite the fact that primaries are often won by catering to the activists in your party, I can’t believe the Republicans would be so foolish as to throw the general election because of it. It would be like running Goldwater again. I give him NO CHANCE UNLESS EVERYONE ELSE DIES.

Newt Gingrich. Former U.S. House Speaker from Georgia. If only he wasn’t so partisan when he was Speaker of the House, laying the groundwork for his own demise, and ratcheting up the “poisonous” atmosphere in Washington, I might vote for this fascinating, far thinking and articulate candidate. I can think of no other candidate who is as knowledgeable, and far seeing. He is well aware of his weaknesses and kids himself about his many visits to Iowa. But, he is who he is and remains unapologetic about his tactics while in power. I would not vote for him for any office unless he becomes born again in terms of his political attitudes. No matter. This country isn’t looking for interesting or even brilliant leaders. Newt does not have a personality which would succeed on a national level. Most people don't really want some on that smart running things. He also has to generate his own news, as he does not hold an elected office now. Although a frequent guest on cable and Sunday morning news shows, its not enough. I give him NO CHANCE UNLESS THE ENTIRE WORLD CHANGES AND WONKS BECOMES SEXY.

Rudy Giuliani. The former New York City Mayor and hero (what passes for in our day and age) of 9/11. Let me start by saying he’s not for me. No doubt, many feel he did a lot for New York City, was strong in the 9/11 aftermath, and he claims he has softened his rough edges since his bout with cancer. I don’t care. Like with Newt, he would have to convince me that he has really changed. While a prosecutor, he was often ruthless. While Mayor, he beat his opponents into submission. He was especially dictatorial in free speech issues. I just don’t think he believes very strongly in the first amendment. When his term was up, he tried to bully the new mayoral candidates into illegally extending his term, using the trauma of 9/11 as an excuse. I suggest that those who are curious about Guliani read Mayor Koch’s Nasty Man, a book on Giuliani written before Koch became a fan after 9/11. Is the country ready to elect a Giuliani as opposed to a Bush or a Clinton? Maybe. He regularly beats everyone in the polls. Is the Republican party ready to choose Rudy with all his socially unacceptable positions (pro-gay, pro-choice). Probably not. However, he has developed a relaxed and natural speaking style that people seem to like, despite his lisp. I give him THE BEST CHANCE OUT OF ANY REPUBLICAN EXCEPT MCCAIN.

Mike Huckabee. Soon to be former governor from Arkansas. Didn’t a former Arkansas governor win once before? Oh, that’s right. I like Huckabee, which would be a great button. I have seen him speak in New Hampshire (thank you C-Span). He is very folksy and seems to have common sense. It does not seem like he has a lot of weight right now, but he has been working it. He seems a very compassionate guy, particularly during the Hurricane Katrina crisis. He is very conservative, probably as much as Brownback, but seems to keep it more out of sight. Nevertheless, it would be a big issue in any general election. He may also have a Clintonian knack for scandal, although not in the woman department. I know that Clinton and Carter were unknown Southern governors who made it, but there was not the same set of strong contenders at that time like there is here. I don’t know why for sure, but I give him a LONG SHOT BUT ONLY IF MCCAIN AND GIULIANI SELF DESTRUCT.

George Pataki. New York Governor until January, 2007. Listen George, you became governor of New York because New Yorkers were tired of Cuomo and Howard Stern threw you his support. You are the fifth best known New York politician, after Guliani, Clinton, Schumer and Spitzer. I think it has forever galled Pataki that Giuliani kicked his ass in the post 9/11 popularity contest. Although, Guliani is twice the politician that Pataki is. I give him NO CHANCE EVEN IF EVERYONE ELSE DIES. Socially, he is not conservative enough to win a Republican nomination and has none of Giuliani’s positives to counter it. Retire, become a lobbyist. Don’t do this, George. It will hurt.

John McCain. Long time Arizona Senator. I am a little biased here. He has been my personal favorite since the last 90s. McCain is a genuine war hero. In the modern world, you often just need to sign up or show up for hero status, but McCain survived years of POW torture, and refused to go home ahead of others who were there before him, which he could have due to his privileged position as an admiral’s son. Sounds pretty heroic to me. I like McCain for his moderation, his willingness to buck his own party, his willingness to admit mistakes. He is a formidable speaker, strong on defense, and appears to me, at least, to put country Many conservatives dislike him for the same reasons I like him. Naturally, I don’t like everything he does either. Some of his supposedly benevolent positions like the campaign reform law he sponsored and his attempts to censor certain commercial activities in order to protect children, cross over first amendment boundaries in my opinion. I watched a hearing where he grilled now convicted Enron executive, Jeffrey Skilling, and showed a lack of understanding of basic economics. However, most of his comrades seemed equally clueless. He has already disappointed me by wisely asking the forgiveness of the same religious groups he castigated in 2000 by going to Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University and speaking there. Still, he knows what he needs to do to win. I give him THE BEST CHANCE TO WIN THE REPUBLICAN NOMINATION DESPITE GIULIANI'S GENERAL POPULARITY.

Mitt Romney. Soon to be ex-governor of Massachusetts. A Republican governor in one of the strongest Democratic bastions. He comes off as a very serious man, and has been making himself more and more a conservative. Frankly, he comes off a bit pompous and phony to me (how unusual for a politician). He impresses Democrats and Republicans alike, and might just have a dark horse's chance of winning. A Harvard Business School alumni, he was CEO of the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympic Games. The games were an economic success. He has shown himself to be a very strong governor. Massachusetts comprehensive health care initiative is an intriguing experiment. If it appears to be succeeding, he will gain great credit for it. He has also sponsored scholarships for many top Massachusetts’ students. He has been given strong economic powers which he has used to balance Massachusetts’ budget problems. I did mention he is a conservative, and while initially seeming at times a friend to the gay community and pro-choice, he is pro-life and anti-gay marriage. Some commentators think he is a stronger candidate than McCain. I think lack of name recognition overwhelms whatever favortism social conservatives might give him. Overall, I DON’T RULE HIM OUT.

I have left out a few potential candidates like Republican Congressman from Colorado, Tom Tancredo, who is a one trick immigration pony, and Democratic Senator from Connecticut, Christopher Dodd, who I just can’t see figuring in this at all. Don’t worry about them. They are not going anywhere. Will there be any surprises? You never know. Both parties are capable of being collective dunderheads, of course. There has not been a president this unpopular since Herbert Hoover, but Congress is even less popular. What happens in the next two years will determine many things yet unforeseen (I am not sure if I am channeling Yoda or Gandalf here).

I am going out on a limb here and will suggest that, health providing (he will be 72 if elected) John McCain will be our next president, beating out anyone that the Democrats throw at him. Have you noticed that nobody calls him by his first name like we all do with Hillary and Rudy. I think that means something. Had he run as an independent, I believe he would have been President six years ago. Don't mistake my picking him as being a result of liking him best. I rarely think who I like will win. Usually, no one I like is even running.

If Rudy gets the nomination, I believe he will win also, and I am not a fan of his. Its not that I believe Hillary Clinton is a light weight. She will be a much better campaigner than Gore or Kerry and there would be more people whou would vote for her just because she is a woman, who will not for the same reason. I just think she is so polarizing that a society tired of bickering and personal attacks will not want to dangle so much red meat in front of the adverse party. If Barack wins, his inexperience will do him in at the end of the day. Other young Presidents like Teddy Roosevelt and John Kennedy were war heroes, and Teddy was president before he had to win it in an election due to McKinley's assassination. Clinton, also very young, was a governor.

If the Democrats want to win the big one they will need a Scoop Jackson type with name recognition. Lieberman isn't it. No one they have seems like he fits the bill. A number of Republican candidates seem like more reasonable, more intelligent versions of Bush, who after all, won two elections before Iraq did him in.

Picking McCain is not a way out prediction as he has been in the public eye and one of the favorites for many years. So, I will go a little further. His Vice Presidential nominee will be Michael Steele, who lost out on Maryland's Senate seat this election. I think I am going to write McCain and suggest it. Steele, a very likeable man, would be the first black vice president of the United States.

Feel free to completely disagree.

Postnote (11/16/2006) The power of this blog is astonishing. Within a couple of days of posting, Evan Bayh has indicated that he will not be running because there is too much to overcome. Is there any doubt that reading my analysis, he has given up? Since t.v. pundits to love to take credit for everything that happens, why can't I? Thanks for listening, Senator. Let's see if Tom Vilsack takes the hint too, or if he thinks that leaves him the only viable mid-western Democratic candidate. I'm betting he hangs in there until after Iowa.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

An electrifying genius

Something strange happened to me on December 2, 2006. I was going to a dinner party and stopped to buy a bottle of wine for my hosts. There were two people working in the store, a man and a woman. The man was speaking to the counterwoman while I was, in great ignorance, looking for a bottle of Burgundy. I heard a familiar word from the man’s mouth. “Tesla”. I turned around and listened.

“So, everybody thinks that Marconi invented radio, but actually, it was Tesla”. I walked across the store and up to the man. I put out my hand and he shook it.

“I have been waiting for over twenty years,” I said, “to meet someone other than myself who has any interest in Tesla and I just wanted to shake hands with you”. We spoke a little bit about our joint interest and moved on. I know that sounds a little strange, but I promise you, it happened just like that.

That night, at the dinner party, I was looking at my host’s bookshelves, when I saw a Tesla biography. It turns out that Charlie is a Tesla fan. Two in one day. After twenty years or so seemingly alone in this interest, it seemed highly coincidental, but it was nice.

If you asked random people who was the scientist or engineer most responsible for our electrified world, they would probably say Edison. He should get a lot of credit. Tesla’s biographers often deride Edison for his behavior concerning Tesla, and rightfully so. But, sometimes these authors disparage Edison unfairly because he was a businessman, not just a scientist, and because of his bad treatment of Tesla. There is more than enough credit to go around, and Edison should get his due. But everybody knows about him -- we learn about him in high school -- almost no one talks or has heard about Tesla.

Nikola Tesla was born in Croatia, a country better known these days for its ethnic struggles, in 1856. His family, though, was Serbian, not Croatian. The Southern Slavic countries were part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, in any event. Tesla was educated there and showed signs of brilliance. He was also a sickly lad and somewhat unusual.

He came over to the United States in 1884 and began working for Edison, who used him extensively. Tesla claims Edison cheated him out of a promised $50,000 bonus, which, in those days, was a huge sum. Soon enough, Tesla branched out on his own, and made a series of inventions and discoveries that changed the world. Here are some of the more interesting ones.

Radio. The man in the wine shop was absolutely correct, at least according to the United States Supreme Court. We all learned that Marconi invented the radio in high school. My guess is, if there is a trivial pursuit card asking who invented it, the answer on the back would be Marconi, and your fellow game players would say you were wrong if you answered Tesla. Tesla clearly patented his inventions first, in fact years before Marconi. What Tesla did not have, and Marconi did, was powerful connections. A few years later the United States patent office reversed itself and gave Marconi priority. Tesla’s subsequent lawsuit went nowhere.

In trying to build a demonstration for wireless transmission of electric waves, Tesla undertook to build a giant tower to transmit wireless electricity in Suffolk County. There is still a tiny street known as Tesla Way in Shoreham, near the spot the tower stood upon. He was not successful and lost his funding. In the meantime, Marconi demonstrated his inventions, derived in part from Tesla’s and other scientists work, and became famous worldwide. Eventually, Tesla’s tower was scrapped and the property foreclosed upon. The laboratory, designed by architect, Stanford White, still stands, although completely gated off.

During World War II, litigation over who invented wireless transmission was heard before the United States Supreme Court. They came out in favor of Tesla. Although Marconi certainly was a pioneer, and had his own merits, Tesla was first.

Why do we know Marconi, and not Tesla? Possibly it is because Tesla was also a very strange man, germ-phobic, a recluse and obsessive-compulsive to boot. He was interested in inventing things, not marketing them. Not surprisingly, he died in poverty, although he lived until his late 80s. If not for the inventor and businessman, George Westinghouse, who promoted and commercialized some of Tesla’s inventions, we might never have heard of Tesla at all.

Alternating current polyphase distribution system. That may sound a little technical and not very important, but it is. You can supply electricity using direct (DC) or alternate current (AC). Edison championed DC, and Westinghouse, favoring Tesla’s inventions, alternate current. AC won out, with its efficient manner of long distance transmission. With the help of Tesla’s specialized motor, it could be delivered long distance. Edison went to war over this, even publicly electrocuting animals and one inmate on death row, to show how dangerous AC power could be. The battle was over in 1893 when Westinghouse won the job for and then successfully lit the Chicago World’s Fair.

X-rays. History credits Wilhelm Rontgen with this discovery. He did. But once this was announced, he received copies of X-rays taken by Tesla, who had beaten him to it, and simply moved on, with no fanfare.

Hydroelectric power. Tesla designed the hydroelectric plant at Niagara Falls, for the first time, harnessing water power and transforming it into electric power. Don’t look in the falls for any signs of a power plant. The plant actually uses current from the river before it reaches the falls, and then turns it into mechanical and finally electric energy.

Tesla coil. Tesla invented a type of coil which could be used to generate high frequency electricity and producing interesting electric effects. Think Baron von Frankenstein animating the monster for a visual aid.

Radio and the AC distribution system are sufficient to make Tesla one of the elite scientists of all time. But, the list of inventions goes on and on. Sometimes it is difficult to tell legend from reality because Tesla thought outside the box like no one else except maybe Einstein. He is credited from time to time with “Death rays” and vibrating machines that could knock down a city. These do not appear to be true stories, although he probably conceived them. He also claimed to know how to build a flying machine which ran on electo-magnetic energy. When he died in 1943, the FBI took possession of his papers for security reasons. They didn’t really want the Nazis to get hold of a death ray.

More certainly, Tesla also demonstrated wireless boats, established principles upon which RADAR was built, began the fields of robotics and electrotherapy, designed bladeless turbine engines, patented the spark plug and many other more esoteric inventions. He was an amazing, if truly bizarre man, who died alone in a hotel.

However, he also had some rather spectacular failures including massive operations on Long Island and in Colorado Springs. It was at Colorado Springs that he claimed to have received the first extraterrestial communications. It seems unlikely, but they were probably the first collection of cosmic radio rays.

The public doesn’t seem to have much enthusiasm for Tesla anymore, although at one time he was quite famous and even put on
a live show in which he sat calmly and unharmed in the middle of thrashing bolts of electricity.

However, Tesla has a unit of measurement in physics named for him, as well as a crater on the moon and a minor planet. He sometimes appears as a character in novels or other works of fiction, including the recent Thomas Pynchon novel. Some biographies and books about his inventions have been written.He is celebrated in Serbia, where he is depicted on their currency. They have a Nikola Tesla Museum in Belgrade, which I visited in the late 1980s (just before all that unpleasant stuff started happening).

Nikola Tesla was one of the greatest scientists of the 19th and 20th centuries, His life began before our Civil War and only ended during World War II, during most of which time he was extremely prolific. He did not believe the atom could be split, and was too old and eccentric to work on the project anyway. When he died in 1943, it was only months before the Supreme Court would give him credit for priority in radio.

It is truly a wonder that we do not know Tesla as we do Einstein, Edison and Marconi. Perhaps that is due to his strange behavior. Perhaps it is just an accident of history. More likely, bad marketing.

In any event, 2006 was Tesla’s 150th birthday. Very little has been written about this uncommon man. Before the year is up, we should celebrate him.

About Me

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I started this blog in September, 2006. Mostly, it is where I can talk about things that interest me, which I otherwise don't get to do all that much, about some remarkable people who should not be forgotten, philosophy and theories (like Don Foster's on who wrote A Visit From St. Nicholas and my own on whether Santa is mostly derived from a Norse god) and analysis of issues that concern me. Often it is about books. I try to quote accurately and to say when I am paraphrasing (more and more). Sometimes I blow the first name of even very famous people, often entertainers. I'm much better at history, but once in a while I see I have written something I later learned was not true. Sometimes I fix them, sometimes not. My worst mistake was writing that Beethoven went blind, when he actually went deaf. Feel free to point out an error. I either leave in the mistake, or, if I clean it up, the comment pointing it out. From time to time I do clean up grammar in old posts as, over time I have become more conventional in my grammar, and I very often write these when I am falling asleep and just make dumb mistakes. It be nice to have an editor, but . . . .