5 Powerful People You Didn’t Know Were Related to Bill Gates

culture, history

Chances are good that they’re related to you, too, because of how descent works.  Here are five famous folks who share a common cousin in the Microsoft founder and world-renowned philanthropist.

1.  Diana Spencer, more famously known as Princess Diana.  She’s related to Bill Gates through common ancestors Caleb Fobes and Sara Gager, Gates’ Great-Great-Great-Great-Great-Great-Grandparents and Diana’s Great-Great-Great-Great-Great-Great-Great-Great Grandparents, making Bill and Diana 7th cousins, twice removed.

2, 3, and 4. George W. Bush.  Gates’ 7th Great Grandparents, Nathaniel House and Hannah Davenport, are also the 7th Great Grandparents of the 43rd President of the United States, making Gates and Bush 8th cousins.  Bush’s siblings, including presidential hopeful Jeb Bush, are also 8th cousins of Gates, and George H.W. Bush, the 41st president, is Gates’ 7th cousin, once removed.

5. Franklin Delano Roosevelt.  Gates’ 8th Great Grandparents are also FDR’s 6th Great Grandparents, making Gates and Roosevelt 7th cousins, twice removed.

Bonus Cousins:  Gates is also related to John Kerry and Richard Nixon.  Use this ancestry list and this cousin chart to see how.

William H. Gates III reacts

The Bill Gates You Don’t Know

culture, history, writing

It’s true that you can now play Oregon Trail for free, in DOS, via the Internet Archive.  It’s also true that before there was a Bill Gates who founded Microsoft, there was Swiftwater Bill Gates of the Klondike Gold Rush, no relation.  Microsoft Bill Gates’ grandfather, also named William Gates, was also a prospector active in the same time and place as Swiftwater, which just goes to show that history wants what history wants.  Read the life story of the other famous Bill Gates, written by his mother-in-law, here.  I bet he would have liked one of those waste-to-water machines.

Click here to see how Mr. Gates is related to Princess Di, the Bushes, FDR, and Richard Nixon.

Mark Cuban Doesn’t Understand How History Works

culture, history, sports, writing
English: Mark Cuban

Mark Cuban (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If you believe all the smart mark sports blogs, I’m supposed to hate ESPN First Take and heap specific scorn upon Skip Bayless and Stephen A. Smith whenever the chance arises.

But I don’t, so I don’t.

I’ve always liked Bayless.  For years, he’s been the only one saying anything substantially different about any of our sports meta-narratives.  I think he’s insightful, keenly intelligent, and a savvy interpreter of the human condition as refracted through the lens of postmodernity in sports. Smith is those things, too, and he’s at his best when meandering through measured, point-by-point analysis, which I find him doing more often, lately, than the almost unwatchable theatrics he’s better known for.

I also tend to like Mark Cuban. Like Bayless, he’s a contrarian by nature, and I’ve admired recent stands he’s taken on things like the looming student credit bubble.  He’s a smart, successful business man with, I’ve assumed, a great command of How These Things Work, These Things being sports communications in the 21st century.  Something he famously helped invent, after all.

So I’m bummed out by the ad hominen attacks he brought to the set of First Take last week.  He accused Bayless and Smith of only ever speaking in generalities and of “never using facts.”  Anyone who has ever seen First Take for more than five minutes knows that Skip and Stephen are addicted to statistics and use them in the manner of historians:  with a recognition that “facts” don’t exist in some kind of pristine vacuum.  Bayless, Smith, and writers in all places in all times use data to establish a particular interpretation of history.  I don’t fault Cuban for having never taking a class in historiography, but that doesn’t make him any less, or any less woefully, wrong about the veracity of facts.  And he’s lying about Bayless and Smith never analyzing data.  It’s as if Cuban believes there are a few factual and true metanarratives floating around out there about LeBron or the Mavericks or sports culture in general, and everything else is “mere” opinion.

When I was in Div School, a took an American History course that was cross-listed with other grad programs and with the undergrad program at Yale.  Having spent almost half of my undergraduate career at Ursinus in advanced history classes, I assumed Yale undergrads would have a firm grasp on the finer points of historiography.

Then one day, a senior-year English major said “But it’s not like there are histories, plural.  There’s, like, what happened.  History is not interpretation.”

How my vaunted view of the mythical Ivy undergrad experience crashed to Earth, much like the cosmologies we were studying at the time.  How could an English major at Yale, and a senior, to boot, fail so epically and so basically?  English gets all the credit for bringing postmodernity from the hinterland of art into academia proper, but there was a little old book by a man named E. H Carr called What Is History? that Cuban and my old classmate would both still do well to read.

History is interpretation, and that’s all it can ever be.  The reasons why should be obvious.   From different vantages, we all see the same object but different facets of it, and we’re all seeing the object, even if we’re not seeing the object as such, the Ideal Form, The Thing In Itself.   History is interpretation, and what is the 24 hours news cycle, or the programming of the World Wide Leader in Sports, if not instant history?

I know Mark Cuban’s not a stupid guy.  I know all the blogheads saying he eviscerated First Take as a concept, and the journalistic integrity of Bayless and Smith specifically, aren’t stupid either.  But they are fundamentally wrong, and so is Cuban.  Where Cuban succeeded was in production.  He boorishly out-bullied the men most often castigated by the sports intelligentsia as boorish bullies and proved himself as the Man with the Largest Contrarian Credential in the room.  Even if he doesn’t understand history, I’m sure Mark Cuban understands irony.  But not always.

Where Have You Gone, William Jennings Bryan?

economics, politics

Is it just me, or does this ad for gold include a subliminal (or overt) connection between said precious metal and the Cross?

A good occasion to refresh our memories regarding one William Jennings Bryan.  Timely, timely, timely.

How Broken Are Our Politics? Will Gen X Save The World?

politics, writing
Dwight D. Eisenhower, President of the United ...

Knew something about this.

A good friend engaged me about this via email this week.  I think it’s just about beyond question that our national political structures are utterly, fundamentally broken at the macro level.  A broad survey leaves little to the imagination: special interests, Big Whatever…in too many ways our politicians are not our own and are accountable first to their fundraisers and donors.  There are exceptions.  There are micro-level organizations of integrity, there are good candidates and great public servants.  But the system itself exists for itself in perpetuity.  Don’t believe me?  Try running for Super Congress.

Are our politics broken beyond repair, or can they be fixed according to the rules they’re governed by now?

How anxious are you?  If you’re between 18 and 100, are tech-savvy and engaged, your answer should be very.  If you’re between 30 and, say, 45 (the Upper Cusack Limit), you might also consider the total refusal of anyone to move a sane agenda forward as an unprecedented opportunity to lead.

Babyboomers, heel-graspers that they’ve been, have been uncannily quiet in all of this at the national level.  Sure, they’ve been the public face of so much chicanery since the Clinton Administration, but they’re not seizing any real opportunities to create something new or leave us with much. Barack Obama, young Boomer that he is, out to be the virile head of some great movement.  Alas, there is nothing.  If I’m being fair, and I do want to be fair, Obama has lead on a few key policy issues, but the wither, blister, burn, and peel of support from the progressive base is not news.  It happened for reasons.

We, the USA Network demographic, don’t trust national Republicans or Democrats.  We love the idea of hope and change and progressive causes but we don’t believe in attendant hype or machines. We like the idea of populist movements but have seen them be hijacked by agendas that couldn’t be further from our ideals.

We are displeased.  What to do? (If you’re picturing Billy Zane as an evil tycoon who doesn’t give a shit, good. We’re being taunted, everyday, by people who will never want for anything, people we’ve put in power, many of whom are apathetic at best toward our well-being or future.)

One impulse is to turn local, and I believe that localism, rightly channeled in all of its healthy forms, will go a long way toward changing our communities in radically sustainable ways.  But that won’t happen without you, Generation X.  You who are parents, you who are holding down jobs, paying bills, paying taxes, you great middle class getting screwed.  I’m asking you to do more.  I know, I know.  The good news is that in places like Allentown, PA, and, I imagine, its analogs everywhere, there are indeed many Boomers doing great things and looking for help.  Your vested interest is your children’s future.  Determined as you are to make damned sure the world they inherit is better than the shit-storm left you, you don’t really have much of a choice.  If you’re not already, please get connected.  Please make a difference.  Please build communities.

But we haven’t forgotten about you, Great National Mess. You are Das Nichtige, the unchosen nothing, the aggregate mass of political sin, of omission, of shirking, of all that is wrong with our government, our economy, our budget, our laws. You are our misplaced priorities. Your time is over, we cannot sustain you, but your enablers have said that you’re too big to fail, too big to move.

But you’re not.  We know your coordinates. You thrive at the intersection of political parties and the military industrial complex.  George Washington and Dwight Eisenhower, two Citizen-Generals, warned us of you, but we were too busy moving west, killing Indians, too busy moving west, building suburbs, to listen.  We’re listening now.  We won’t support your national campaigns or your friends in Big Anything.  We don’t want Monsanto or Super Congress.  We don’t want your labels, your symbols, your platforms.  We want clean water, clean air, and safe food. We want safety nets and renewable energy.  Sustainability is our ideology, our children are our constituents, and our political leaders will answer to us.

And who will they be if not us?

Ed Koch and the Afterlife of FDR

history, politics, spirituality
Edward I. Koch, mayor of New York City, sports...

not a recent photo.

Christopher Cocca

Ed Koch has a very interesting piece up on RealClearPolitics.  I’m not going to get into the Israel-Palestine debate in this post, but I did want to point out Koch’s religious eclecticism on matters of the hereafter.  I’m not in the business of opining on the eternal fate of people, but I do sympathize with the religious and legislative impulse behind Koch’s placement of FDR in the not-quite-sweet by and by.  Certainly, it feels icky when civic leaders speculate about these kinds of things.  On the other hand, like the Sinead O’Connor piece I posted yesterday, Koch’s essay captures a public figure in raw struggles around faith, life, death, justice, and forgiveness.  You need to know, before reading the excerpt below, that Koch has just described newly-found evidence of FDR’s less than progressive attitude toward the fate of Jewish professionals living in a newly liberated North Africa following World War II.  I’ll also mention that I remember learning about FDR’s rather crass sentiments toward the Jewish members of his own administration in high school.  Yes, I went to high school in the 90’s, but I doubt this was a case of revisionism.  On to Koch:

I appreciate FDR’s contributions to the survival of our country. At the same time, I have never forgiven him for his refusal to grant haven to the 937 Jewish passengers on the SS St. Louis, who after fleeing Nazi Germany had been turned away from Cuba and hovered off the coast of Florida. The passengers were returned to Europe, and many were ultimately murdered in the Nazi concentration camps before World War II ended. I have said that I believe he is not in heaven, but in purgatory, being punished for his abandonment of the Jews. The concept of purgatory is Catholic. I am a secular Jew, but I am a believer in God and the hereafter, and I like this Catholic concept. The Casablanca document reinforces my conviction that President Roosevelt was, at heart, not particularly sympathetic to the plight of the Jews.

I’m not sharing this piece to stir up a big debate about FDR’s eternal reward.  But I am very interested in and sympathetic to the way Koch rather nonchalantly identifies himself religiously in the excerpt above. “The concept of purgatory is Catholic.  I am a secular Jew, but I am a believer in God and the hereafter, and I like this Catholic concept.”  Period.  I don’t relish the thought of anyone being stuck in purgatory, but I love Koch’s honesty about spiritual beliefs he has chosen, some informed, indelibly, by his inherited Jewishness, others by the pluralistic settings of successive communities and constituencies.

Here and there, I’ve described myself as an eclectic or even provisional Christian.  Even though I am a protestant, traditions from across the wider Christian experience appeal to me in various ways, as does a whole lot of secular philosophy.  This sort of up-front religious navigation strikes me as honest and compelling in ways that weren’t readily accessible to the pilgrims of other eras.