Today is the Solemnity of the Birth of John the Baptist, and today is also Midsummer’s Day.
The Feast celebrating the birth of John the Baptist is one of the oldest festivals of the Christian church, being listed by the Council of Agde, France in 506 as one of that region’s principal festivals, where it was a day of rest and, like Christmas, was celebrated with three Masses: a vigil Mass, at Mass at dawn, and a midday Mass. The Nativity of Saint John the Baptist on June 24 comes three months after the celebration on March 25 of the Annunciation, when the Archangel Gabriel told Our Lady that her cousin Elizabeth was in her sixth month of pregnancy, and six months before the Christmas celebration of the birth of Jesus. The question naturally arises as to why the celebration falls on June 24 rather than June 25 if the date is to be precisely six months before Christmas. It has often been claimed that the Church authorities wanted to “Christianize” the pagan solstice celebrations and for this reason advanced Saint John’s feast as a substitute. This explanation is questionable because in the Middle Ages the solstice took place around the middle of June due to the inaccuracy of the Julian calendar; it was only in 1582, through the Gregorian calendar reform, that the solstice returned to June 21 / June 22 where it had been in the fourth century. Therefore, a more likely reason why the festival falls on June 24 lies in the Roman way of counting, which proceeded backward from the Kalends (first day) of the succeeding month. Christmas was “the eighth day before the Kalends of January” (Octavo Kalendas Januarii). Consequently, Saint John’s Nativity was put on the “eighth day before the Kalends of July” (Octavo Kalendas Quintilis). Since June has only thirty days, in our present (Germanic) way of counting, the feast thus falls on June 24. Nevertheless, the significance of the feast falling around the time of the solstice is considered by many to be significant, recalling the words of John the Baptist with regard to Jesus: “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30). (Of course, this only applies in the Northern Hemisphere, so it’s a good thing that both John the Baptist and Jesus were born in Judea and not in Christchurch, New Zealand.) Today is also Midsummer Day, which is celebrated around the world in different ways; the United States has celebrations in areas with large Swedish and Scandinavian populations, such as in Chicago, Minneapolis, and Lindsborg, Kansas. (Here in SouthWestCentral Louisiana, with its strong French Cajun influence, it’s just June, and hot outside, as usual.)
The First Quarter Moon arrived at 6:04 am. Richard started the Weekly Computer Maintenance for me. When I woke up at 9:00 am, I did my Bathroom Devotional Reading, read the morning paper while eating my breakfast toast, and continued the Weekly Computer Maintenance while doing my Internet Devotional Reading. The last part of the Weekly Computer Maintenance gave me trouble; first, it timed out without finishing, and the second time I ran it it was going for over two hours before I bailed on it. (More anon.) Meanwhile, Richard went out to get a roll of line for the Weedwacker. The line he got at the True Value was the wrong size; he returned it, and they did not have the right size at either Wal-Mart or the tractor supply place. I finished my laundry, and at intervals read Shady Characters: The Secret Life of Punctuation, Symbols, and Other Typographical Marks by Keith Houston. I also did Advance Daily Update Drafts for this weblog through next Tuesday. I then watched Jeopardy! at 4:30 pm, but did not get to see Final Jeopardy, as it was pre-empted for the speech from Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal in which he officially announced that he is a candidate for the Republican Party nomination for President. I must say that he’s gotten better at public speaking; but for now, he is just another occupant of the Clown Car that holds all of the candidates for the Republican Party nomination for President. I then came back to the computer and worked on my September photos for this weblog (which I also use as wallpaper on my Galaxy Note 4). And I will now finish this Daily Update and read for the rest of the evening. I will set the Weekly Computer Virus Scan going, and I have set the Weekly Backup to start up on its own at 1:00 am tomorrow morning. (If it does the backup, I will change the schedule so that it does the backup on Wednesday mornings.)
Tomorrow we have no Saints to honor; instead, we will recall that on tomorrow’s date in 1876 Lieutenant Colonel George Armstrong Custer and the Seventh Cavalry rode to fight the Sioux in what later became known as The Battle of Little Big Horn in Montana. We will also recall that tomorrow is the anniversary of the death of my father in 1998. After breakfast I will head over to the Clinic at the casino for my 10:50 am appointment with the Renal Specialist. On my way home I will get my salad supplies. I will then iron my casino pants, apron, and shirts, and make my lunch salads for Friday and Sunday.
This Midsummer Day evening brings us a Parting Quote from Paul Winchell, American ventriloquist and voice actor. Born Paul Wilchin in 1922 in New York City, his first show as a ventriloquist was on radio with his dummy Jerry Mahoney in 1943. The program was short-lived, however, as he was overshadowed by Edgar Bergen. Entering the spotlight on the Edward Bowes Original Amateur Hour (1948), he began working soon after in a review show in which Major Bowes would showcase the winners of his radio program. He started his television career on the CBS program The Bigelow Show in 1948 and got his own show, The Paul Winchell and Jerry Mahoney Show (originally called The Spiedel Show) in 1950, in which he introduced another dummy, dim-witted Knucklehead Smiff. He published the book Ventriloquism for Fun and Profit in 1954. Winchell (often with Jerry Mahoney) was a frequent guest panelist on What’s My Line? in 1956. His most successful TV show was Winchell-Mahoney Time (1965–1968), a children’s show in which Winchell played several onscreen characters, including Knucklehead Smiff’s father, Bonehead Smiff. He also played himself as friend and adult advisor to Mahoney and Smiff. He also created “Oswald,” a surreal character, by painting eyes and a nose on his chin, covering his face with a small costume, then having the camera inverted. The resulting pinheaded character seemed to have an immensely wide mouth and a highly mobile head. Winchell created this illusion by moving his chin back and forth. A new innovation of Winchell’s was to replace the dummy’s hands with those of puppeteers who were hidden behind the dummies in a crate. Other work included on-camera guest appearances on such series as The Beverly Hillbillies, The Lucy Show, The Dick Van Dyke Show, Dan Raven, and The Brady Bunch, as well as a 1960 movie that included a compilation of Three Stooges shorts (Stop!, Look and Laugh), and a part in the Jerry Lewis movie Which Way to the Front?. Winchell appeared as himself in 1963 in the NBC game show Your First Impression. On Love, American Style, he appeared with fellow ventriloquist Shari Lewis in a sketch about two shy people in a waiting room who choose to introduce themselves to each other through their dummies. His later career included a great deal of voice acting for animated cartoons, notably for Disney and Hanna-Barbera. For the latter, he played the character Dick Dastardly in multiple series (notably Wacky Races and Dastardly and Muttley), Clyde on The Perils of Penelope Pitstop, Fleegle on The Banana Splits Adventure Hour, and Gargamel on The Smurfs. He also provided voices on Help! It’s the Hair Bear Bunch!, Wheelie and the Chopper Bunch, The Robonic Stooges, and The CB Bears. Winchell provided the voices of Sam-I-Am and his unnamed friend in Green Eggs and Ham from the animated television special Dr. Seuss on the Loose (1973). For Disney, Winchell was best known for voicing the character Tigger in Disney’s Winnie the Pooh films, and won a Grammy Award for his performance in Winnie the Pooh and Tigger Too in 1974. He also performed the voice of Fearless Freddy the Shark Hunter on the Pink Panther cartoon spin-off Misterjaw in 1976. In commercials, he voiced the character of Burger Chef for the fast food chain of the same name, the Scrubbing Bubbles for Dow Chemicals and Mr. Owl for Tootsie Roll Pops. His last regular on-camera TV appearances working with his puppets were The Storybook Squares(a children’s version of the adult celebrity game show The Hollywood Squares which was seen Saturday mornings on NBC during the 1969 TV season) and Runaround, another children’s TV game show seen Saturday mornings on NBC from September 1972 to September 1973. Having studied pre-med at Columbia University, he graduated from The Acupuncture Research College of Los Angeles in 1974 and became an acupuncturist. He developed over 30 patents in his lifetime. He invented an artificial heart with the assistance of Dr. Henry Heimlich (the inventor of the Heimlich Maneuver) and held the first patent for such a device. The University of Utah developed a similar apparatus around the same time, but when they tried to patent it, Winchell’s heart was cited as prior art. The university requested that Winchell donate the heart to the University of Utah, which he did. He established more medical patents while working on projects for the Leukemia Society (now known as the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society) and the American Red Cross. Some of the other devices he invented and patented include a disposable razor, a blood plasma defroster, a flameless cigarette lighter, an “invisible” garter belt, a fountain pen with a retractable tip, and battery-heated gloves. In the 1980s Winchell, concerned about the starving African people, developed a method to cultivate tilapia fish in tribal villages and small communities. The fish thrives in brackish waters, which made it particularly well suited for sub-Saharan Africa. Winchell appeared before a Congressional Committee with several other celebrities, including actors Richard Dreyfuss and Ed Asner, and Dr. Henry Heimlich. The Committee declined to finance a pilot program for the tilapia aquaculture project (in Africa) because it required digging a well into non-potable water, which the Committee felt was not advisable. His autobiography, Winch (2004), exposed many dark areas of Winchell’s life, which had hitherto been kept private. The autobiography opened old wounds within the Winchell family, prompting his daughter April to publicly defend her mother who was negatively portrayed in the book. He was estranged from his children, and thus they were not immediately notified of his death (died 2005): “Children are so used to seeing puppets that when they see a real ventriloquist they don’t understand it.”