February 11, 2020
Day 41 of 366
February 11th is the forty-second day of the year. It is National Foundation Day in Japan, commemorating the 660 BC foundation by Emperor Jimmu.
In the United States, it is “celebrated” as National Don’t Cry Over Spilled Milk Day, National Inventors’ Day, National Make a Friend Day, National Peppermint Patty Day, National Shut-In Visitation Day, and National White Shirt Day.
Historical items of note:
- In 1790, The Religious Society of Friends, also known as Quakers, petitioned the United States Congress for the abolition of slavery.
- In 1812, Massachusetts governor Elbridge Gerry was accused of unfair practices after signing a bill that created a partisan Boston district in the shape of a salamander. Thus, the term gerrymandering was born.
- In 1847, Thomas Edison was born. He developed the lightbulb and the phonograph.
- In 1936, actor Burt Reynolds was born.
- In 1953, President Dwight D. Eisenhower denied all appeals for clemency for Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, the couple convicted of spying on the United States for the Soviet Union.
- In 1961, actress Carey Lowell was born.
- In 1969, actress and producer Jennifer Aniston was born.
- In 1982, actress Natalie Dormer was born.
- In 1983, “Weird Al” Yankovic completed recording of his first studio album.
- Also in 1983, actress Nicki Clyne was born.
- In 2001, a Dutch programmer launched the Anna Kournikova virus. Millions of emails were infected thanks to a trick photo of the tennis star.
In 1938, BBC Television produced a thirty-five-minute adaptation of a section of the play R.U.R., making it the world’s first-ever science fiction television program.
R.U.R., sometimes subtitled Rossumovi Univerzální Roboti or “Rossum’s Universal Robots”, was written by Karel Čapek. When it premiered on January 25, 1921, it introduced the word “robot” to the English language and the science fiction genre. In Czech, robota means forced labor, such as that of a serf on a master’s land. It is derived from rab, which translates to slave.
The play partly takes place in a factory that makes artificial people called roboti. These robots are manufactured from synthetic organic matter and are living creatures of artificial flesh and blood rather than the mechanical constructs we consider robots in the modern era. In fact, the roboti are closer to our modern definition of androids or replicants, can easily be mistaken for humans, and can think for themselves. They seem happy to work for humans at first, but a robot rebellion leads to the extinction of the human race.
Čapek later wrote in the same theme with War with the Newts, in which non-humans become a servant class in human society.
The parallels between Čapek’s work and both versions of Battlestar Galactica are striking.
The play quickly became influential and had been translated into thirty languages by 1923. It was later adapted into a radio play with Patrick Troughton for the BBC in 1941 and had several other adaptations over the years. Its legacy has also spawned several references in popular culture.
In the United States, the original manuscript is in the public domain and has been transcribed for Project Gutenberg.
The Thing About Today is an effort to look at each day of 2020 with respect to its historical context.
For more creativity with a critical eye, visit Creative Criticality.