Tag Archives: aliens

Blog 2014: The Fifth Year In Review.

Screen Shot 2015-01-04 at 3.03.08 PMBanner2Banner3-b

2014 was the fifth year for this blog — and though I have to admit I was a relatively infrequent blogger this year — there were a handful of events I could not let pass without trying to say something. Most important was the loss of two iconic figures who granted me (and many others) the privilege of their invaluable friendship and mentorship. The passing of Sheldon Patinkin and Ray Shepardson made 2014 a year I will always remember.

Paul’s Voyage of Discovery & Etc. has attracted 189,401 viewers since it began — 24,929 in 2014. The busiest day of the year was September 21st with 505 views. The most viewed post that day was O Captain! My Comedy Captain! — my post on the passing of Sheldon Patinkin.

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I continue to be honored that 179 subscribers have now signed on to have my posts automatically delivered to them via e-mail. (And 59 more who follow this blog on Twitter.)

Are you a subscriber?

If you’re not — then look to your right at the photo of the saluting Matey and follow the simple instructions to “Hop Aboard!”

What follows is a list of The Top Ten Most Popular Posts of 2014.

Just click on the title of each post to access the original article.

1. The Top Ten Rock & Roll Singers of All Time

singerbanner1

There’s nothing like a Top 10 list to promote discussion on a blog – and this December 5, 2011 post did just that. It’s one of the posts that has generated the most comments. A lot of people feel I’ve left one of their favorites off the list. Check it out – and then weigh in with your own opinion. Just realize that your opinion on rock & roll singing cannot possibly be as informed as my own.

2. 
O Captain! My Comedy Captain!



Sheldon Banner

I don’t know where my life would have gone if the great Sheldon Patinkin had not walked into a small storefront theatre on Howard Street in Evanston — and took my silliness seriously. Sheldon didn’t just change my life. He changed generations of lives. I will miss him every damn day. But, in essential ways, he will always be with me — and with all of the thousands of creative people whose lives he touched. (Posted on September 21, 2014.)

3. My Book Report: “The Battle of Midway”midway

What a great book! What an amazing chapter of world history! On January 23, 2012, I wrote this review of a book that captures all the incredible heroism, good luck, and turns of fate that made this epic World War Two naval battle an overwhelming victory that turned the tide of the war against Imperial Japan. In 2013, I wrote another report on an excellent World War Two book, The Day of Battle, about the campaign to liberate Italy. A few weeks after I wrote that post, my family and I visited the American cemetery in Tuscany and paid our respects to the soldiers whose valor, sacrifice and victory are recounted in Rick Atkinson’s fine book.

4. 
Farewell to Ray Shepardson, the Visionary Who Saved the Theatres

Ray Banner

I honestly had no idea how to headline this tribute to the great Ray Shepardson, who died suddenly and shockingly in Aurora, Illinois in the spring of 2014. The man who saved dozens of great old theatres and movie palaces from the wrecking ball was a man of prodigious energy, drive, and “can do” creativity. He is greatly missed by many. This was posted on April 16, 2014 — my birthday.

5. Victory at Pearl HarborPearl Harbor

Originally posted in 2010 on the anniversary of the “day that will live in infamy” – this post has become an annual event. A lot of military history fans visit this blog, but I think Pearl Harbor fascinates and resonates with Americans whether they have an interest in military history or not. The September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks took more American lives – but Pearl Harbor was the shocking opening act in a drama that ultimately made the United States the world’s preeminent superpower.

6. The Occupy Wall Street Movement Doesn’t Need Black Bloc Buffooneryblackboc

Though we didn’t hear much about it in 2013,  the Occupy Wall Street movement has inspired a lot of posts on this blog since 2011. This post, written on November 2, 2011, has proven to be the most popular. Maybe that’s because people agree that we don’t need a bunch of foolish, immature anarchists screwing up a noble movement that ultimately helped to put Barrack Obama back in office. Without Occupy Wall Street, would Romney’s attack on the 47% have evoked such a profound and spirited response? Without Occupy Wall Street, would the concept of the 99% and 1% have ever entered the Zeitgeist? And can Occupy Wall Street — or something even more effective yet peaceful — please come back in 2o15?

7. Happy Birthday Bill of Rights!

On December 15, 2010 – the 215th birthday of our Bill of Rights – I wrote this basic primer on the first ten amendments to the United States Constitution and it’s become one of the most-read posts in the history of this blog. I guess that’s because Americans still give a damn about their rights and are keen to understand their Constitutional foundation.

8. Bazooka Joe, Jay Lynch & Me

One of the first posts I wrote for this blog back on January 9, 2010 celebrated my brief but soul-satisfying collaboration with the legendary underground comix artist, Jay Lynch, who gave Vic and me the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to write a series of Bazooka Joe comics. It was one of the coolest chapters in my creative career. The Practical Theatre Company, Saturday Night LiveBehind the Music, The Vic & Paul Show and Bazooka Joe. Classics all. Can I retire now?

9. Paul McCartney & The War of 18121812banner

This was originally posted on June 18, 2012. That day was not just Paul McCartney’s 70th birthday – it was also the 200th anniversary of The War of 1812. 130 years after the young upstart United States declared war on Great Britain, Paul McCartney was born. I thought that was a real fun fact.

10. LeBron: The King Moves Onlebron-banner-2

As a Cleveland native, I’ve often been asked my opinion of LeBron James leaving the Cavaliers several years ago — and my friends and co-workers are usually shocked that I’m not upset or indignant or jilted, etc. And while the blogosphere hardly needed one more commentary on LeBron James’ move to the Miami Heat, I wrote this post on July 9, 2010 to explain that LeBron James didn’t owe me anything. He’s a professional basketball player who wants to win and be remembered as the best to play the game. The two NBA championships he’s won in Miami since I wrote this post have given LeBron all the scoreboard he needs. in 2014, The King came back to Cleveland, which is doubtless the reason for renewed interest in this post.

So, that’s the best of 2014. Stay connected. Subscribe. And please keep posting your comments!

Here’s to a worthy, adventurous voyage in 2015!

And here are the All-Time Top 10 Blog Posts from January 2010 up to today:

1. Happy Birthday Bill of Rights!

2. Victory at Pearl Harbor

3. The Occupy Wall Street Movement Doesn’t Need Black Bloc Buffoonery

4. The Top Ten Rock & Roll Singers of All Time

5. History & Honeymoon: Part Three

This post was the #3 post in 2010. 24 years ago, my wife Victoria and I went to Gettysburg and other Civil War battlefields on our honeymoon! I needed no other assurance that I had married the perfect woman. On our 20th anniversary, we returned to Gettysburg. Now both students of the battle, we walked the battlefield on July 1, 2 and 3, 2010 on the 147th anniversary of that critical conflict. My four-part account of our battlefield tramping became one of the most popular items on the blog. (Originally posted July 20, 2010)

6. A Childhood Memory of Kent State, May 4. 1970Kent State

On the May 4, 2012 anniversary of this very dark day in America history, I posted this personal remembrance of a young Ohioan’s earliest memories of that terrible day. Unlike the Pearl Harbor post, I haven’t re-posted this article every year — but readers still find it. “Tin soldiers and Nixon coming.” The shootings at Kent State should never be forgotten.

7. Aliens Among Us?

I’ve always wondered where singular, epochal, “out of this world” geniuses like William Shakespeare, Leonardo da Vinci and Bob Dylan came from. So, on January 26, 2011, I wrote this speculation on the possible alien origin of such monumental minds. Evidently, my curiosity (if not my Erich Van Daniken “ancient astronaut” fantasy) is still shared by a lot of people who read my blog in the past year.

8. Growing Up in the Space Age

The last American space shuttle launch inspired this July 14, 2011 remembrance of my personal connection to the Space Age. This popular post salutes my fellow Ohioan, John Glenn, who served as both the first man to orbit the Earth and as a Senator from my home state. I wish that my three daughters had grown up experiencing something half as exciting and inspirational as The Race to the Moon.

9. My Book Report: “The Battle of Midway”

10. Bazooka Joe, Jay Lynch & Me

 

5 Comments

Filed under Adventure, Art, Comedy, History, Politics, Sports

ObamaCare & Italy & Everything Else — Blog 2013: The Fourth Year In Review.

New Year'sObamacareitaly-banner-1 S&GFor my family and me, 2013 ended on an upbeat note with “Mr. Olsen’s New Year’s Rockin’ Neighborhood” — a raucous, sold-out celebration of comedy and rock & roll at 27 Live in Evanston, Illinois. The weather was bitterly cold but there was a delightful, enveloping warmth in our comic camaraderie with longtime friends, bandmates, fellow Northwestern University alums and members of The Practical Theatre Company.

P&EvaI even got to sing duets with my college roommate and fellow Practical Theatre founder, Brad Hall (as Simon & Garfunkel, above) — and with my daughter, Eva.

We closed the evening with two spirited sets by Riffmaster & The Rockme Foundation, the band I’ve been playing with since the early 1980’s. There’s no better way to ring in the New Year than by rocking with your best buddies. All in all, it was a wonderful way to say goodbye to 2013 and hello to 2014.

suess-graphic-cruz26nI’ll be candid. For some reason, 2013 was not a very prolific year for this blog. I don’t know whether it was the fact that the excitement of the 2012 Presidential election gave way to Congressional constipation courtesy of the recalcitrant, reactionary Tea Party bloc in the House of Reps — or that the rollout of the Affordable Care Act led to the dispiriting madness of the government shutdown. I managed to get off a few broadsides skewering the likes of Senator Ted Cruz (Tea Party, TX) — but the I should have written more in defense of President Obama and progressive politics. (Though my most commented-on post in 2013 was President Obama Goes to War.) Still, I resolve to do a better job of blogging on politics in 2014.

ItalyBThe highlight of 2013 was our family’s two-week trip to Italy and the provinces of Tuscany and Umbria in August. I tried to sum up the experience in an article entitled, Our Italian Adventure. I could easily have written a series of blog posts on each of the beautiful cities and towns we visited, the artwork we saw, the food we ate, and the people we met — but I stuffed the whole, glorious journey into one account. To make amends to my readers I promise that, before too long, I will post a link to the movie we shot on the grounds of Camporsevoli. Stay tuned…

2013 was the fourth year for this blog — and here are the year’s vital signs:

Paul’s Voyage of Discovery & Etc. has attracted 164,472 views since it began four years ago. There were 34,572 visits in 2013. I’ve posted 299 articles since this blog began. This post is #3oo: certainly a notable milestone.

This is not the real subscription sign up box. The real one is further to the right. And up a little…

I am honored that 147 subscribers have now signed on to have my posts automatically delivered to them via e-mail. (And 43 more folks follow this blog on Twitter.) Are you a subscriber? If you’re not — then look to your right at the photo of the saluting Matey and follow the simple instructions to “Hop Aboard!”

The search terms that readers used most to find this blog were “Pearl Harbor”, “Occupy Wall Street”, “trial by jury”, “Bill of Rights” and “Pickett’s Charge”. And these are the posts that readers were most attracted to this year…

What follows is a list of The Top Ten Most Popular Posts of 2013.

Just click on the title of each post to access the original article.

1. Victory at Pearl HarborPearl Harbor

Originally posted in 2010 on the anniversary of the “day that will live in infamy” – this post has become an annual event. A lot of military history fans visit this blog, but I think Pearl Harbor fascinates and resonates with Americans whether they have an interest in military history or not. The September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks took more American lives – but Pearl Harbor was the shocking opening act in a drama that ultimately made the United States the world’s preeminent superpower.

2. Happy Birthday Bill of Rights!

On December 15, 2010 – the 215th birthday of our Bill of Rights – I wrote this basic primer on the first ten amendments to the United States Constitution and it’s become one of the most-read posts in the history of this blog. I guess that’s because Americans still give a damn about their rights and are keen to understand their Constitutional foundation.

3. A Childhood Memory of Kent State, May 4. 1970Kent State

On the May 4, 2012 anniversary of this very dark day in America history, I posted this personal remembrance of a young Ohioan’s earliest memories of that terrible day. Unlike the Pearl Harbor post, I haven’t re-posted this article every year — but readers still find it. “Tin soldiers and Nixon coming.” The shootings at Kent State should never be forgotten.

4. The Top Ten Rock & Roll Singers of All Time

singerbanner1

There’s nothing like a Top 10 list to promote discussion on a blog – and this December 5, 2011 post did just that. Check it out – and then weigh in with your own opinion. Just realize that your opinion on rock & roll singing cannot possibly be as informed as my own.

5. The Occupy Wall Street Movement Doesn’t Need Black Bloc Buffooneryblackboc

Though we didn’t hear much about it in 2013,  the Occupy Wall Street movement has inspired a lot of posts on this blog since 2011. This post, written on November 2, 2011, has proven to be the most popular. Maybe that’s because people agree that we don’t need a bunch of foolish, immature anarchists screwing up a noble movement that ultimately helped to put Barrack Obama back in office. Without Occupy Wall Street, would Romney’s attack on the 47% have evoked such a profound and spirited response? Without Occupy Wall Street, would the concept of the 99% and 1% have ever entered the Zeitgeist?

6. My Book Report: “The Battle of Midway”midway

What a great book! What an amazing chapter of world history! On January 23, 2012, I wrote this review of a book that captures all the incredible heroism, good luck, and turns of fate that made this epic World War Two naval battle an overwhelming victory that turned the tide of the war against Imperial Japan. In 2013, I write another book report on an excellent World War Two account, The Day of Battle, about the campaign to liberate Italy. A few weeks after I wrote that post, my family visited the American cemetery in Tuscany and paid our respects to the soldiers whose valor, sacrifice and victory are recounted in Rick Atkinson’s fine book.

7. LeBron: The King Moves Onlebron-banner-2

As a Cleveland native, I’ve often been asked my opinion of LeBron James leaving the Cavaliers several years ago — and my friends and co-workers are usually shocked that I’m not upset or indignant or jilted, etc. And while the blogosphere hardly needed one more commentary on LeBron James’ move to the Miami Heat, I wrote this post on July 9, 2010 to explain that LeBron James didn’t owe me anything. He’s a professional basketball player who wants to win and be remembered as the best to play the game. The two NBA championships he’s won in Miami since I wrote this post have given LeBron all the scoreboard he needs.

8. Growing Up in the Space Age

The last American space shuttle launch inspired this July 14, 2011 remembrance of my personal connection to the Space Age. This popular post salutes my fellow Ohioan, John Glenn, who served as both the first man to orbit the Earth and as a Senator from my home state. I wish that my three daughters had grown up experiencing something half as exciting and inspirational as The Race to the Moon.

9. The Wrecking Crew

Glen Campbell, Hal Blaine, Carol Kay, Tommy Tedesco, Leon Russell, Earl Palmer: the cream of Los Angeles studio musicians in the late 50’s, 60’s and early 70’s became known as “The Wrecking Crew”. I’m thrilled that my March 21, 2011 blog article celebrating Tommy Tedesco’s son’s marvelous documentary film about these rock & roll legends has proven to be such a popular post. If you haven’t done it already, do a Google search on “The Wrecking Crew”. Until then, your rock & roll education is not complete.

10. The Matey’s Log: Sailing Season Begins raceheader

This post recounted a sailboat race held on February 13, 2010.  It was a good thing that the race was being run the day before Valentine’s Day. Like golf, sailing is a sport that takes men out of the house for long stretches of time on the weekend. But sailboat racing is worse than golf because it’s never certain when you’ll be done. 18 holes of golf always take about the same amount of time to complete. The duration of a sailboat race depends upon the vagaries of the wind and conditions on the water. I don’t sail as much as I used to to — but I still love it. And I’ll continue to report on my sailing adventures in the new year.

So, that’s the best of 2013. Stay connected. Subscribe. And please keep posting your comments!

Here’s to another fine voyage in 2014!

And here are the All-Time Top 10 Blog Posts from January 2010 up to today:

1. Happy Birthday Bill of Rights!

2. Victory at Pearl Harbor

3. The Occupy Wall Street Movement Doesn’t Need Black Bloc Buffoonery

4. History & Honeymoon: Part Three

This post was the #3 post in 2010. 24 years ago, my wife Victoria and I went to Gettysburg and other Civil War battlefields on our honeymoon! I needed no other assurance that I had married the perfect woman. On our 20th anniversary, we returned to Gettysburg. Now both students of the battle, we walked the battlefield on July 1, 2 and 3, 2010 on the 147th anniversary of that critical conflict. My four-part account of our battlefield tramping became one of the most popular items on the blog. (Originally posted July 20, 2010)

5. A Childhood Memory of Kent State, May 4. 1970

6. Aliens Among Us?

I’ve always wondered where singular, epochal, “out of this world” geniuses like William Shakespeare, Leonardo da Vinci and Bob Dylan came from. So, on January 26, 2011, I wrote this speculation on the possible alien origin of such monumental minds. Evidently, my curiosity (if not my Erich Van Daniken “ancient astronaut” fantasy) is still shared by a lot of people who read my blog in the past year.

7. Growing Up in the Space Age

8. The Top Ten Rock & Roll Singers of All Time

9. Bazooka Joe, Jay Lynch & Me

One of the first posts I wrote for this blog back on January 9, 2010 celebrated my brief but soul-satisfying collaboration with the legendary underground comix artist, Jay Lynch, who gave Vic and I the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to write a series of Bazooka Joe comics. It was one of the great chapters in my creative career. The Practical Theatre Company, Saturday Night LiveBehind the Music, The Vic & Paul Show and Bazooka Joe. Classics all. Can I retire now?

10. History & Honeymoon: Part Four

2011 was the 150th anniversary of the commencement of the American Civil War – and the Civil War Sesquicentennial is likely the reason that two of my “History & Honeymoon” posts are still among the most-read this past year, including this one, first posted on July 26, 2010. This post covers everything from my wife Victoria and I battle tramping Pickett’s Charge on the third day of Gettysburg –to our visit to Philadelphia and the eccentric, visionary artwork of Isaiah Zagar.

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Filed under Adventure, Art, Comedy, History, Politics, Sailing, Sports, Travel

Aliens Among Us?

In his 1968 book, Chariots of the Gods? Unsolved Mysteries of the Past, author Erich von Däniken speculated that the religions and technological advancements of some ancient civilizations were the work of ancient astronauts who were welcomed to Earth as gods.

Now, I dig contemplating the mysteries of Stonehenge, Easter Island, the Great Pyramid of Giza, and those crazy ancient lines dug into the rock on the Plains of Nazca in Peru (pictured below) – but I can’t say I subscribe to von Daniken’s theory.

However…

At various times in human history, certain people have appeared on the scene who were so far ahead of their peers — intellectually, artistically, scientifically, philosophically and morally – that you have to wonder just where the hell they came from. Were these geniuses simply the result of natural human evolution? Were they the special blessings of a loving God, eager to advance His human experiment? Or did they somehow drop out of the sky as the gift of extraterrestrial overlords, desirous of seeing human civilization grow and prosper for reasons we can’t yet fathom.

The following 15 great minds were so far advanced for their time that it seems entirely plausible that they were, indeed, space aliens plunked down among us to enlighten humanity and move us Earthlings forward: or at least the result of divine intervention. Either that, or humankind just got lucky.

I admit that this is an entirely Western list. I’m sure students of Eastern culture would rank Buddah and other Asian greats in this elite category. But I don’t know a damned thing about Eastern culture beyond the legend that claims Marco Polo brought pasta from China to Italy – which is hard for a proud Italian like me to endure. Maybe that’s why I’ve never delved much deeper into Asian studies.

At any rate, here’s my list of 15 possible alien geniuses dropped out of the sky into the world of mortal men.

1. Socrates (469-399 B.C.) What most school kids know about this leading light of ancient Greek philosophy is that he got in trouble for corrupting the youth of Athens and was made to execute himself by drinking hemlock. (Probably the first and only reference to hemlock most of us will hear in our lives.) Among those Athenian kids learning at Socrates’ feet was Plato, who also did some pretty advanced thinking of his own – and wrote a classic account of Socrates final days. Socrates work is the foundation for the study of Western philosophy. Tuition-paying parents can blame Socrates for the fact that their sons and daughters will earn a college degree that almost guarantees poverty. More than two centuries after downing his hemlock cocktail, Socrates is still corrupting the kids.

2. Aristotle (384-322 B.C.) Another great Greek philosopher, Aristotle was a student of Plato. He taught Alexander the Great. (Which is a good thing if you’re Greek and a bad thing if you’re Persian.) Aristotle was a great writer — the first to explore logic (long before Star Trek’s Spock). He is considered one of the central figures of Western philosophy. Back in the day, Aristotle and his followers were known as the Peripatetic school, after the ancient Greek word peripatetikos, which means “given to walking about”. He must have been a fast walker, because, to this day, students find it hard to keep up with Aristotle.

3. Jesus (1-33 A.D.) For the moment, let’s just set aside the divisive two-millennia long debate over whether Jesus was a god or a man – or both. Even if he was no more than a Galilean carpenter’s son, his “love your neighbor as yourself” philosophy was revolutionary. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” was certainly not the prevailing attitude of Jesus’ time – and few people live up to that Golden Rule today. But it’s a philosophy that could save humanity, if only we’d all live by it. Whether you’re a deist or not, read The Beatitudes — and marvel at all that wisdom flowing from an impoverished, poorly educated guy from an oppressed backwater of the Roman Empire. Turning water into wine was a nice trick, but the transformational ideas Jesus expressed were truly miraculous.

4. Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) Where in the hell did Leonardo da Vinci come from? Okay, so he’s one of the best painters of all time — and one of the great scientists and inventors, too. The same guy who painted The Last Supper and The Mona Lisa also drew up plans for a helicopter and a tank. His notebooks are filled with brilliant ideas – which he liked to write backwards! (My wife is the only other person I know who can do that with ease.) How good was Leonardo? Da Vinci was so good that Michelangelo was jealous of him. Leonardo was the quintessential Renaissance man: painter, draftsman, sculptor, architect, engineer and jazz hipster. (I made up that last one.)

5. William Shakespeare (1564-1616) Simply amazing. To call William Shakespeare the greatest writer in the English language still sounds like faint praise. A supreme poet, a brilliant wordsmith, and an unparalleled playwright, he created nearly 40 plays and about 150 sonnets – and they all kick ass. Hamlet not enough for you? MacBeth not enough? King Lear? Othello? Romeo and Juliet? It’s just silly how incredible the Bard’s body of masterworks is. You can’t go through life for a day – you can hardly live through one hour – without hearing or reading or seeing a phrase written by Shakespeare. And half the time you don’t even realize it! Bill Shakespeare is not simply the greatest writer in the English language: he is the English language.

6. Galileo Galilei (1564-1642) The second great Italian on this list, Galileo was a revolutionary astronomer, physicist, mathematician, and philosopher. He’s been called the “the Father of Modern Science – and for good reason. He’s the guy who figured out some fundamental things about gravity, the laws of motion – and that little business about the Earth moving around the Sun (rather than vice versa). The great authority of Galileo’s time, The Catholic Church, rewarded him for his discovery of this essential astronomical truth by charging him with heresy and threatening to torture him if he didn’t take it all back. Galileo was in his 70’s when they and took him to the church dungeons to show off the instruments of torture they planned to use on him if he didn’t recant. Knowing the Church had already burned his scientific predecessor Giordano Bruno at the stake for heresy, Galileo recanted and spent the last seven years of his life under house arrest. Nice, huh?

It was a memory of such state-sponsored religious tyranny that led people like the next man on this lost to espouse the separation of church and state.

7. Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790) Ben Franklin is not just one of America’s Founding Fathers. Given his Olympian libido, he might be literally our founding father. But his infamous satyric exploits aside, Ben Franklin is still an incredible character: the most multi-faceted Renaissance man since Leonardo da Vinci. Franklin was an innovative author, humorist, printer, politician, inventor, and scientist. His legendary kite-flying experiments advanced our knowledge of electricity. He wrote hundreds of wise and witty sayings in Poor Richard’s Almanac, invented the lightning rod, bifocals, the Franklin stove, the odometer – and contributed to much of the philosophy and lawmaking that gave birth to the government of the United States of America. Oh yeah — and as our first ambassador to France, Franklin was instrumental in bringing the French into our revolutionary war against England. Game over. Bow down to Ben.

8. Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865) Born in a log cabin and largely self-educated, Abe Lincoln overcame the disadvantages of a hardscrabble frontier life on the edge of American civilization to become the central figure in saving the American experiment from itself. How did such a rough-hewn man become the supreme poet that wrote the Gettysburg Address – or his second inaugural address? (“With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right…”) And it’s not just Honest Abe’s flair for poetry that rings down the centuries – it’s also his uncanny leadership in the Civil War. No American president since George Washington (and possibly James Madison) faced a more grave threat to America. But Washington had already won his war before he took office as President – and Madison’s English invaders also had Napoleon to deal with. Lincoln faced a wholly internal threat. He persevered and won. And he freed the slaves, too. He was the right man at the right time. Did we just get lucky? Or were our alien overlords looking out for us?

9. Charles Darwin (1809-1882) Naturalist Charles Darwin took a great scientific leap forward — and infuriated generations of Biblical fundamentalists — with his pioneering research on natural selection leading to his theory of evolution. Without Darwin’s tireless voyages and observations and his bold assertions of evolutionary theory, many of the great scientific and medical advances of the 20th century would have been impossible. No scientist since Galileo has pissed off more small-minded religious conservatives than Darwin. That alone is a fine reason to celebrate his landmark achievements.

10. Mark Twain (1835-1910) We all had to read Mark Twain’s books in school — but Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn are just the tip of the Twain iceberg. Twain’s literary, journalistic, intellectual and humanist advancements are still underappreciated in his own land. But the more you read Twain’s works, the greater he becomes. In fact, Mark Twain may be the greatest writer in the English language since Shakespeare. What couldn’t this guy write? Drama? Check. Comedy? Check. Adventure? Check. Political commentary? Check. Travelogue? Check. Philosophy? Check. Twain wrote it all – and he did it in a voice that still sounds contemporary today. Do yourself a favor and get his newly published autobiography. Mark Twain is the American literary colossus. (And no, let’s not replace the N-word in Huck Finn with “slave”. Twain knew what he was doing.)

11. Thomas Alva Edison (1847-1931) In his own time, Thomas Edison was like Bill Gates, Steven Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg combined. Is there any modern appliance that we now take for granted that Edison didn’t invent? The incandescent light bulb, sound recording devices, the phonograph and the film camera would be enough to make him a legend – but Edison did much, much more.

In his New Jersey laboratory, The Wizard of Menlo Park pretty much invented the modern world. Without Edison, there would be no vinyl records – and thus, no late 20th Century rock & roll. ‘Nuff said.

12. Mahatma Gandhi (1869-1948) In a violent century marred by two world wars, pogroms, massacres, bloody civil wars, nuclear bombs and revolutionary struggles against colonial powers – Gandhi achieved independence for India through non-violence. And he did this in a region where tribal, religious and ethnic violence was a way of life. Gandhi showed humanity a way forward, just as Jesus did two millennia before him. And, like Jesus, Gandhi paid for his non-violent vision with his life.

13. Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968) Martin Luther King brought the non-violent humanism of Jesus and Gandhi to America – combined with soaring, moving poetry not heard in the political realm since Abraham Lincoln. As a result, he helped America to advance civil rights and form a more perfect union. What was Martin Luther King’s reward for his genius? Alas, the same reward that Jesus, Lincoln and Gandhi got. (Noticing a pattern here?)

14. Bob Dylan (Born May 24, 1941) How did a 22-year old kid from a backwater like Hibbing, Minnesota write “Blowin’ in the Wind” and “The Times They Are A-Changin’”? Bob Dylan became the voice of a generation by merging folk music and rock and roll with cutting-edge social, political and passionately human commentary. Dylan’s influence on popular culture since the early 1960’s is impossible to measure. My favorite Dylan album, Blood on the Tracks, is the most romantic collection of love and loss poems since Shakespeare’s sonnets — and you can sing them. In my estimation, the greatest poets in the English language are Shakespeare, Lincoln and Bob Dylan.

15. Lennon & McCartney (Met Saturday, July 6, 1957) The only partnership on this list, Paul McCartney and John Lennon are the greatest songwriting team in history: their influence on popular culture in the second half on the 20th Century and beyond is immeasurable. Eleanor Rigby, In My Life, Yesterday, Let it Be, Across the Universe – the list of their undying classics goes on and on. What would your life be without Lennon & McCartney? Kind of like a life without Shakespeare. Maybe even worse. After all, you can’t dance to Titus Andronicus. We tend to discount the geniuses amongst us. It’s said that true genius is never appreciated in its own time. But Lennon & McCartney are either once-in-a-generation geniuses – or space aliens dropped into working class Liverpool during World War Two.

A couple observations about this list:

Albert Einstein (1879-1955) is not on the list because his big scientific breakthrough (E = mc2) led to the atomic bomb. That may not be fair, but consequences matter. Nobody else on this list came up with anything that directly cost lives. UPDATE: The wise and fair minded Jim McCutchen reminds me that Einstein is NOT the only one on this list to have his work misused to the detriment of mankind. Jim is correct. Now, I am keeping Einstein off the list simply because I am not a big fan of math and because his hair looks too much like Mark Twain’s.

Of the 15 geniuses on this list, more than half were severely punished for their gifts to humanity: two were executed (Socrates and Jesus), four were assassinated (Lincoln, Gandhi, King and Lennon), and two were persecuted by religious fundamentalists (Galileo and Darwin).

Who would you put on this list?

Who would you take off this list?

And where do you stand on the whole Chariots of the Gods thing?

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