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The Whiskey Insurrection, Auld Lang Syne & Ideas of where to Bury your Heart

It’s 1994, the year in which sportsman and not very good actor O.J.Simpson is arrested for the murder of his wife and lover, and later shockingly acquitted, despite huge amount of evidence of his guilt. Even more spectacularly it is also the year that the Shoemaker-Levy 9 Comet plunges into Jupiter at 140,000 mph, causing one of the most impressive series of explosions our solar system has seen for millions of years. And it’s two hundred years since Robbie Burns first published his poetic rendering of an old folk song that went by the name Auld Lang Syne, now one of the best known songs in the world, sung in vociferous chorus every year as midnight moves from the old year to the new. And it’s two hundred years since the death of his compatriot Robert Louis Stevenson. And two hundred years since Thomas Paine published his still influential The Age of Reason, written while he was in France. On publication he was immediately condemned as an enemy of the state and thrown into prison by Robespierre. At this point Robespierre was at the height of his power, but just a few months later Robespierre got too big for his boots, radically overstepped the mark, and had his head chopped off on July 28th, along with many hundreds of others. Thomas Paine survived to write The Age of Reason Part II.

It is also two hundred years since the Whisky Insurrection in Pennsylvania, when farmers and frontiersmen rose up in protest at the tax on their home-made booze. Their refusal to pay duty sparked the first large-scale test of government authority since the founding of the New Constitution of America. It rumbled on for a couple of years, before President Washington had enough and rolled into Pennsylvania at the head of 15,000 troops, swiftly bringing the insurrection to an almost bloodless end: a perfect demonstration that the show of power can sometimes be deterrent enough to without actually going to war. More fittingly, given that it is 2012 when I am writing this, it is one hundred years precisely since Baron de Courbetin put forward the idea of Modern Olympic games. He was heavily influenced in this endeavour by the English educationalist Thomas Arnold, who believed that sport should be a main part of a gentleman’s education. And he did mean gentlemen, not women of any kind, and de Coubertin was of like mind and strongly fought against the allowing of women to take part in the games once he had managed to revive them. The first Modern Olympics took place in Athens two years later 1896, de Courbetin entering under various pseudonyms and even winning a couple of medals. His home life was not so easy a race, with his first-born son suffering mental retardation, supposedly from having been left by his parents too long in the hot sun; their daughter was emotionally disturbed and remained a spinster, and not a happy one, all her life. De Courbetin and his wife then treated their two nephews as substitute sons, only to have the two of them killed during World War I, ending the de Courbetin’s male line. He died in Geneva in 1937 and was buried in the Bois de Vaux in Lausanne. Or most of him was. In accordance with his last will and testament his heart was removed and buried near the site of the Ancient Olympic Stadium in Greece. Happy days.

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