Monday, October 30, 2006


Well, after a record week of printing that coincided with midterms last week I just finished a marathon of sorts. I am doing my best to take it easy this week (my printing slate is caught up and midterms are graded. whew!). The only reason I pulled off the whole guest post thingy last week at Sar's was because there was a mix up and I thought it was going to be featured a week earlier. So I had accidently done my homework early and got to just send it over and check in and make comments in what turned out to be an exchange of upwards of 60 comments that is still going on! I tried to sign off and say thanks and goodbye and then Sar started in again on Major Dad and then O Ceallaigh chimed back in and as of today I entered the fray again.

It's all been a grand experiment but one that has given me some insight and also, sadly, reinforced my feeling that all of the powers of civil discourse cannot make a dent in some levels of dogma. At the end I got scrappy and wasn't proud of some of the comments I made. Though I made some apologies I think I still need to learn the meaning of the phrase "shake the dust from your feet" and walk away or just maintain patience and calm. I still have much to learn.

I am going to have some time to write for a change and I've got people waiting-- nothing great, no more War and Peace, no novel, just computer graphics stuff and if I get the time, my long shot book, The History of Design, From Animal Fat to Inkjet (The War and Peace of Design). I've been waiting to shove open a window to focus on writing these textbooks and it will be a different pace than last week. Something to look forward to.

C Jo and baby Bonnie are going to take off for the coast for three nights. I'll be home alone with the other kids and that will give me more writing time (one hopes). We were set to go as a family but Rob's football team won their first playoff game! It's a single elimination playoffs that is open to all teams, regardless of their record. Well, Rob's team had only won a single game all year. We had heard mid season that only teams that had 4 wins would go to the playoffs. So we scheduled a trip for after football, once his team got to where there were less than 3 games left. Come to find out that all teams go to the playoffs. Okay, no worries, chances are, the way things had been going, that they wouldn't get past round one. Well, they destroyed the first team and looked like Ohio State out there! What happened! They executed plays, they threw passes, they had sacks. Now what do we do? We have a house rented at the beach. So, C said I'll go have some fun with the wee one, you stay and write and support the football thing and it will be fine.

All's well that ends well. I'll miss the beach and my wifey and the little snapper. I love the coast. but a light work week and a weekend without a toddler will be a nice change, especially with all of this writing to do. We'll see-- I do feel like somewhat of a taxi service for my teenage daughter's social life a lot of the time and I don't want to ignore Rob, but at least the spinning head of parental radar can be turned off and I might be able to focus. Famous last words, I know.

Wish me luck. And I hope to steal some time in blogworld, especially since I won't be nursemaiding a somewhat fruitless discussion on war and peace at Sar's that I created. Will I ever learn?


Thursday, October 26, 2006

Tom’s Challenge—The Riddler Results.

This week’s challenge champion is “Goldennib!” Way to go Nibby! Ya done good.
Second place goes to the reigning queen of the challenge, Quilldancer—always the one to beat.
And third place goes to Diesel! a new friend who popped over from the Sar guest post commentary and knew this answer out of his head, it appeared! Though I forgot to mention that Goldennib remembered Turing from a computer class she took and that he was associated with artificial intelligence.

Y’all done good. Real good. Here’s the skinny on this week’s mastermind:

Alan Turing is perhaps the most unsung hero of the twentieth century. He is another story equally as intriguing as Descartes or Wright from previous challenges. Turing attended the “public school.” – what we in America today think of as private school—the Sherbonne, and went on to King’s College, Cambridge to study mathematics. Turing was one of the first if not the first to pull logic into mathematical circles and marry philosophy and mathematics and to some extent in later years, psychology and neurology to try and create artificial intelligence. At the outset of this quest was a groundbreaking 1936 thesis entitled (short version) “On Computable Numbers,” which is the first extant paper written about how a fantasy machine would work that could calculate anything, using a binary system. Further, once you had one of these machines that could execute a given “program,” you could add programs until it could perform any function you wanted it to. Turing not only described the computer as we use it today, he gave us the math and function of how this could be performed before any hands had touched metal. He called it a Turing machine.

His paper was met with little fanfare until experiments began to take place in the US with “computers” and his paper ended up in their hands or in discussions on how to proceed. Little by little, Turings Computable Numbers became the seminal piece for the creation of computers.

In 1939, Turing saw the animated movie Snow White and wrote to friends about it. He memorized the lines the Witch said as she created her poison apple. Mostly due to the social discomfort attributed to being gay in a predominantly non gay world, Turing talked about suicide at various times in his life.

But, then came the war. At that time, Turing was teaching at Cambridge ( I think) and was snatched up by King and country to go to the now infamous Bletchley Park—the decoding center for the war effort. Turing’s theories were put to use in creating decoders for the German enigma machine, a machine that scrambled text so well and so randomly that the German’s were, to their demise, overly confident that no one would ever break the code. But this job was made for Turing and his intelligent machines. Decoding machines were created under his direction and ultimately a large machine was created called “the Collossus” that many have thought should be given the honor of being named the first computer. In one account I read that until the code was cracked, with the U boats keeping England under siege, it was thought that England had about two weeks worth of food left. I also read that Churchill made a tough decision once the code had been cracked not to warn the people of a particular town that they were about to be bombed, so as not to give away that they had cracked the code. That would be a call I would not want to make. With Turing’s machine, England was spared and the advantage turned to the allies, ultimately guiding their way to victory.

As you may have surmised, Turing’s end was not nearly as glorious as his heroic years at Bletchley Park. He was gay and as is often the case in intellectual circles, this never posed a big problem when he was at Cambridge amongst his colleagues. But, having strayed to a new job, working on a post war computer project (trying to think of what University) he picked up a man of questionable character and dated him for a while. His new friend arranged a robbery of his house with an accomplice and when Turing reported it to the police, it was quickly surmised that the two were involved. Turing was never one to tell a lie and so confessed as much. Homosexuality was illegal at that time in England and he was arrested.

At that time, experiments were being conducted with hormones to try and find a “cure” for homosexuality and one of the things that was found was that when men received estrogen that their sex drive was diminished. Turing was given a choice—jail or estrogen treatments. He chose estrogen treatments for the period of a year (I think) and went about his work. But he started changing physically--- he was growing breasts. Turing was a distance runner and often entered into competitions, even though he was a youngish forty something. He did not like having breasts.

It was also illegal for gays to work in classified areas as there was a fear that they could be blackmailed to give up government secrets. So, he was stripped of his clearances. No one is actually sure why he killed himself, as he left no note. He did not express sadness to his friends or that he was living in great shame or loneliness. But, he was found lying on his bed with a partially eaten apple laced with arsenic at his side.

Bonus Question

So far we have some people with the right answers, but still holding out for third place. One thing I noticed was that no one addressed the stanza:

Quick they were with his arrest,
and sentenced him to grow women's breasts,

A rather intriguing couplet, don't you think, considering it promises to be of historic significance?

Solve that riddle and you may move into a new position! I'll have to find some clever way of rewarding you.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Tom's Challenge--the Riddler

When England lay under seige by sea,
and bombs by night rained from the sky,
the food grew scarce and times were grim,
but all was saved by the brain of him.

And great honors to him, his King did pay,
Until it was found that he was gay,
Quick they were with his arrest,
and sentenced him to grow women's breasts,

His life from then was not the same,
Though he tried his best to hide his shame,
But in the end he chose Snow White's plight,
But no kiss would ever bring back his life.

1. Who was he?
2. What did he do for Jolly Old England?
3. What was his fate?

Monday, October 23, 2006

cheaters and heartbreak

My schedule is crazy from Sunday night until Wednesday, but of course the good part is that I am done with any out-of-the-house work at noon on Wednesday (this does not preclude in house work, but that's different). I mentioned in an earlier blog that I am working in a new program that I helped to create, in a new capacity which is great. Only, there is almost no curriculum available since I invented the class and have to create it all myself from scratch-- I try to use other people's stuff or text books that come with CDs and assignments but I just can't do it. I always have to make it my own. So I scramble and I write (four hours of lecture and four hours of lab work per week). It's a labor of love, but the operative word here is labor.

But tonight, after a major marathon of class material prep and writing the midterm I gave this morning, I decided to take a break and chill in my robe, play Bazza's quiz and generally dip back into the global friendspace.

After reading Quilldancers blog about her test, I had to convey one of the weird things that happened to me in grading my first graphic design project this week: Two people cheated.

I gave them an assignment in a page layout program where I give them the raw components--some digital images that are very large and have to be sized down and placed into a string of frames, some text in Word and a set of instructions also in Word. I also give them, only on the first assignment, an example, in the same program, that they can use to see how I constructed mine. I give them a speech that I only give them this one example in the same program that they are using on the first assignment because it is difficult the first time they use the program again after the Summer break. After that I give them a PDF file that will show them how an assignment looks but they cannot "strip it for parts." I told them that unforunately due to the fact that there has been cheating in the past I have had to resort to this, as much as I would love to give them as much information as they need to do the best job that they can.

After that speech, I figured there wouldn't be any cheaters trying to turn my own example back in renamed as their own. Plus the fact that I know these guys, they are in their second year, juried in, on track for their degree.

So I'm going through this first project, pulling them up one at a time and they are all designed to look like mine, but it's amazing how accurate the human eye is-- I can tell that they are different. It's like, give someone a picture of cut out shapes of paper arranged into a collage, then give them the same colored paper and ask them to cut out their own and paste them up. They won't be exactly the same as the picture but very similar. There are differences in proportion, but when there isn't... it was amazing-- it was like hearing a chord and knowing that it was the same chord you had just heard. I opened up a file and this person had put all kinds of different fonts surrounding the string of resized images to disguise it, but the sequence of images just struck me. I had seen that proportion before. So I simply clicked on one of the images, brought up the info palette which told me the exact dimensions of the image to ten thousands of an inch, opened my example, clicked on the same image and I'll be damned-- exactly the same. I went through all of the placed images and they were all the same dimensions down to ten thousands of an inch. So I marked a "see me" down, I was a a little disappointed and about 6 assignments later there it was again! The bells were ringing, the chord was playing.

So, in lab while people were working I called the students up one by one to go over their projects and grades while people were working on the new project and when I got to cheater number one I explained very quietly the fact that I have info in my files that serve as saferguards against anyone using the stuff I provide... then asked, do you know why I'm telling you this? "Because I used your file." "Because you used my file. You can't use my file for your assignment." To keep this short, he got a 0 but I told him that if he did the assignment over he could get half the alotted points for that assignment which was better than a 0 but still an F (50%). The second person came up and I got as far as "You know my images have measurements that are down to ten thousand of an inch.." and she just said bluntly "I cheated." "Yeah, you cheated." Same speech followed but man, I was shocked and dismayed that that is how we started the term off. What a bummer.

Just had to get that off my chest.

Peace, Tom out

Friday, October 20, 2006

Challenge #5 results

Hello all,

Well, the results are in. Each Challenge gets a little tougher it seems but the race does go to the... well, stubborn. Once again, the reigning queen of the Challenge pulls it off, this time without the hint of a movie she had seem too many times by chance. So, ever more the accomplishment.

First the answers:

1. Frank Lloyd Wright
2. Taliesin (rebuilt twice after fires)
3. Taliesin West, the snow bird school for architecture in Arizona (hence the reference to Jackie's recent migratory departure).

And the winners are:

1st: Quilldancer! I already gave her victory introduction above.
2nd: Bazza! The music hint created an instant bridge over the troubled waters (pun intended) of this challenge for Him. The 1970 album, "Bridge Over Troubled Water," by Simon and Garfunkel contained a song entitled "So Long Frank Lloyd Wright," written by Simon. That album was one of the few to keep the Beatles off of number 1, competing with the Beatles "Let it Be" album. Now that is a high honor to come out number one in that field of competition. Bazza responded very quickly after that hint went up.
and 3rd goes to Kat who pulled this one out of the hat to make it into the winners circle again. Congratulations Kat!

Frank Lloyd Wright is worth a look as there are so many amazing things about his career. Considered a has-been by the time he was in his sixties, Frank made a come back and created his most amazing work after retirment age until his death at the age of 92. the Guggenheim Art Museum in New York was nearly completed at the time of his death and Frank was right in there during the construction up until he reported stomach pains. After surgery to remove an obstruction, he slipped away.

I highly recommend the Ken Burns documentary, Frank Lloyd Wright. It is a stunning piece of work and will keep you captivated through its entirety. Like Descartes and scientific method, we owe as much to FLW and his approach to architecture and design.

Thans for playing and I'll see you in the blogosphere.


Thursday, October 19, 2006


For those of you who might still be pondering this. Here is something more for you to chew on.

Upon the death of this certainly most famous person in their field, one of America's most famous songwriters wrote a farewell song for this person.

The album this song appeared on reached number one on Billboard Music Charts pop albums list. It won a Grammy Award for Album of the Year while its title track won the Grammy Award for Song of the Year.

The album proved to be a vast success in the United Kingdom, enjoying several runs at number one, spending some years in the charts and eventually becoming the country's biggest-selling album of the decade that it was released in.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Tom's Challenge #5

Hi everybody. Sorry about the radio silence but the term is starting to build up to midterms and it’s a whole new curriculum this year so I have to reinvent the wheel in all my classes. In addition, I’ve had some design deadlines and some major printing jobs, so it’s been quite a week, but all of it is very good stuff.

We’re happy here though our house has been getting cold lately and we are reluctantly turning on the heat for the first time. It’s a big house and winter means spending a lot more on electricity each month. So, we’ve been telling the kids to put on slippers and wear a sweater or something but our bones are getting chilled and it gets pretty dark around here before seven o’clock rolls these days. The change is upon us.

This week’s challenge is as follows:

This is one of our most famous Americans. This person’s influence led inadvertently to a revolution in Europe in their respective field. By way of Scotland, the most controversial of revolutions traced to this person took place in Vienna.

This person’s personal life was both flamboyant and tragic. At one point, a disgruntled associate, sealed all of the doors but one of the family house, with this person’s spouse and children inside, then lit the house on fire and waited at the only exit with an axe. This person’s entire family was wiped out in a most grisly way on that day.

The last clue is that this challenge is dedicated to Jackie and her annual migration.

Because you guys are so sharp, that is all that I am willing to say at this point.

1. Who is this person?
2. What was the name of the location where the tragedy described took place?
3. What other significant place in this person’s life also bore that name?

Well, I hope this is challenging enough for you. It’s hard to say. These facts may be either new or cryptic but the person is not considered obscure.

As always, please e-mail your answers to me. If for any reason this goes slowly I will post clues. Cheers and happy challenge!

Friday, October 13, 2006

The Winners of Tom's Challenge # 4

Hello all and thanks for participating in the most difficult challenge yet. First the answers:

1. The mysterious group was the Rosicrucians ( or the Brotherhood of the Rosy Cross)
2. The Scholar of old was Christian Rosenkreuz
3. And the founders published their manifesto, Fama Fraternitatis, in 1614

And the winners are:

First place: Quilldancer, who managed to pull the Rose and the Cross from the Sean Connery movie, "Name of the Rose." She said she got lucky and had done caretaking for a woman who watched TV 24/7 and had seen the movie a bunch of times. she says, "lucky," but as she has won several of my challenges, I don't think it's luck at all. I think she's damn smart!

Second place: Goes to Jackie's Garden. I think this deserves special applause because she didn't have the flash of a movie to send her in the right direction and did hours of research and came up with all three answers before the clue was put up! That was no easy feat and at one point Jackie declared she didn't want to play any more (but I hope she does). She really did an amazing research job to pull that rabbit out of the hat. Great job, Jackie!

And Third place goes to Goldennib who managed to get the Rosicrucians, the date 1614, but guessed, the ancient scholar was Francis Bacon (not a bad guess at all). I'd like to mention here that not only did she get third place, but she should be proud of the fact that nobody else even submitted an answer besides these three. So this was a tough one. Good Job!

So, here's to the winners three. I hope you feel especially proud because I went to much greater lengths to make this challenge difficult, googled the stuff that I posted and reworded things to make it less googleable. But the two sisters, Quilly and Jackie, got the answers within hours. You guys are amazing!

The Rosicrucians were an exciting mystery during the 17th century as they published anonymously, saying that they lived among the population of any given city, could be your next door neighbor, blended like an alien race into society but held an almost Demi-God (that was the term that was used)-like knowledge of science and magic and met secretly to further humanity and to solve the problems of the world.

In the comments, I mentioned Descartes a couple of times as I came across their fascinating story in an equally fascinating book, called "Descartes' Secret Notebook," by Amir D. Aczel-- almost a very real Davinci Code. Truth being stranger than fiction, the adventures of Descartes and his contemporaries are quite amazing and due to the discovery of a single, quickly scrawled copy of Descartes secret notebook, which he had instructed his heir never to show to anyone upon his death, the author explores, among many things, the issue of whether or not Descartes was a Rosicrucian.

If that sort of thing is your cup of tea, this book is new, I bought it this summer while visiting Jackie and is probably pretty easy to find. As I said in some of the comments flying around during the contest, Descartes is the root of so much of who we are today. My father told me that he was watching a show where a group of nobel prize winners were round table discussing various topics and the question was put to them what they thought the greatest inventions of all time were and one of them thought for while and said, "the scientific method." So, there ya go. As we are all Cartesian, at least here in the West, if you haven't checked out the man who gave us "I think therefore I am, " and the fact that the existence of "imperfection" implies the existence of "perfection" and hence is proof that God exists, you might want to check him out.

Cheers and see you in the blogosphere.

Thursday, October 12, 2006


Here's something for those of you who...well, still care. We do have a first and second place, but I'm looking for a third. Regardless, here it is:

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Please send answers to my e-mail!

Tom's Challenge #4

Tom’s Challenge #4

All right. This is something really interesting that I came across recently in doing some research for a text book that I am working on. There was a group formed under some interesting circumstances in which a group of scholars discovered the tomb of a much older scholar that was filled with ancient wisdom and objects of science and magic that the earlier scholar had learned and acquired though his travels in the middle east. In the tomb of the older scholar was an inscription stating accurately how many years it would be until he was found. Taking this as a sign, the scholars who made the discovery formed a group that exalted science, opposed the power of the church, advocated reform of the church, was opposed to national loyalty and the members considered themselves citizens of the world. Their group would advocate a unity of science and humanity without any national or ethnic boundaries.

Formed during a time of religious persecution for scientific thought that countered that mandated by the church, they were a clandestine group, published scientific and philosophical texts anonymously. Among their rules were:

1. They must heal and distribute free medicines to all people who need them.
2. They must dress in accordance with the customs of the country in which they live.
3. They must meet once a year.
4. Each must choose a successor, so that all of them will be replaced once they die.
5. Each must carry a hidden seal with the letters ___
6. They will keep their group concealed for at least one hundred years.

1. Who were these people?
2. Who was the older scholar that they discovered?
3. When was the group formed, as determined by the publishing of their first manifesto?

Monday, October 09, 2006

A little light ...

There's so much I want to say about the North Korean nuclear test, the sharp rise in U.S. soldier casualties in Iraq, the way that the government spin would rather let us know that 2700 US soldiers have died in the war than let us know that 20,000 soldiers have been injured; about Rumsfeld changing his tune and wanting to increase troops instead of maintaining a leaner, more technologically efficient army and his request for 10s of billions more in the budget this year than last for the war. That's just todays paper. But that's about all I can muster. Somedays you just don't have it in you to go there. You just have to shrug, shake your head and go for a walk and look at some trees.

What I want to do is give all of you wonderful people that I have met through this cyber experiment a big old cyber hug in a time when we could all use a little light. We are this collective of made up names with invented icons, school teachers and gardeners, cynics and saps, satirists and storytellers and we drop in from time to time for a chat. We provide our own tea. In one of my moments of silent exasperation over the daily news I went looking for some music on You Tube and through a random mix of searches came across two old men, a couple of musicians that I had no idea ever mixed their unique musical talents together, performing a song, live, that I was meant to hear. It made me smile. So simple and poignant and perfect. So, in the hope that it might make your day just a little brighter, here is Randy Newman on piano and Peter Gabriel on vocals with a small orchestra singing a song called "That'll Do." Enjoy.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

A very useful word

My friend, quasi family member (Aunt-in-law who's about the same age as me) and fellow blogger, Quilldancer, had put up a funny blog about her english-as-a-second-language 5th grade students (spanish being the first) trying to come up with a spanish equivalent for the yiddish word, "Chuzpah." Well, in her words here's what happened (I hope it's okay that I reprint it here, Quilly-- let me know if that's a problem. I mean, call me... don't have your attorney call me. I mean.. I can just take it off the blog... really):

"The kids used words like brave, courageous, daring, dangerous, and even silly. I told them that the word chuzpah pretty much covered all those things, at which point Rico, excited, piped up with, "Oh! I get it! Cahones!"

That gave me chuckle and I commented that there are often words that are unsavory in certain company that are very useful. Then I remembered this thing I heard about another very useful word some time ago. Now, this circulated the web years ago and so you may have heard it before, but it's still good for a laugh and I thought it would be timely to give it another go around. So here ya go. For you, QD, though it may be much to your chagrin that I tied you in with this (don't do me any more favors, Tom-- I can just hear it. Pft!):
a useful word

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Tom's Challenge #3 Winners

Well, my friends, I'm sorry this one was so easy. On the Captain Cook one I googled my own contest and it was a little more obscure and hence only one person got all the answers correct. This one took minutes. I will try to be more obscure in the future to keep it interesting. I will also post the rules of the game with each and every challenge.

So, as every person who submitted an answer got all of the answers correct we simply go in chronological order:

First place goes to Quilldancer
Second place goes to Brooke
and Third place is shared by Auntie Caryl and Bazza

But the one good thing is that I received comments from some of you that in the process of doing the homework, people were learning things. And that's what this is all about to me. Ho Chi Minh led his people through a war with Japan, then a war with France and then a war with the United States. The Vietnamese people prevailed in all of them. but at a loss of millions.

The most disconcerting part about that war was not that the US was wrong in its "Domino Theory" of communism. They couldn't be expected to see the future, even if it was a bit paranoic-- that was just being wrong on a political opinion. What was more disconcerting was that by all accounts, the United states fabricated an act of military agression against the United States in order to gain public support for a war.

Here is an excerpt from Howard Zinn's People's History of the United States that echoes something all to clearly...:

"The Tonkin "attack" brought a congressional resolution, passed unanimously in the House, and with only two dissenting votes in the Senate, giving Johnson the power to take military action as he saw fit in Southeast Asia.

Two months before the Gulf of Tonkin incident, U.S. government leaders met in Honolulu and discussed such a resolution. Rusk (Secretary of State) said, in this meeting, according to the Pentagon Papers, that "public opinion on our Southeast Asia policy was badly divided in the United States at the moment and that, therefore, the President needed and affirmation of support."

The Tonkin Resolution gave the President the power to initiate hostilities without declaration of war by Congress that the Consitution required. The Supreme Court, supposed to be the watchdog of the Constitution, was asked by a number of petitioners in the course of the Vietnam war to declare the war unconstitutional. Again and again, it refused to consider the issue."

Interesting if nothing else. But can we learn from past events? We bought 9/11 against some very disconcerting evidence. Will 9/11 go down as just being another thing created by our government to create a carte blanche for the president?

I haven't presented the disconcerting evidence yet, but who out there doubts that the government is capable of doing something like that to meet its ends?

Let the fur fly.

Peace. TOM

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Well y'all, I'm back. I had a very surreal experience flying dowwn to California for a meeting with a client and getting back Sunday night after ten o'clock and getting prepared to be able to lecture for two hours beginning at 8 AM the next morning. Time whizzed by and here I am. I have written extensively about what went down in Cal, because there were some mind bending events, but I think I'm going to publish that at another time. I need to digest it and edit it before letting all that out. But, in the meantime, I hope you will find this challenging!

Tom’s Challenge #3

There’s not much to say by way of introduction this time, so I guess I’ll just dive right in.

A country had just won its independence after a long fought battle. In their victory, they wrote a declaration of Independence that began, “All men are created equal. They are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.” In the aftermath of the war, the leader of the country wrote 8 letters to the leader of another country seeking help. Below is an excerpt of one of those letters, with key words, dates and identities edited so as not to give away information that might make this too easy:

“I wish to invite (the ) attention of your Excellency for strictly humanitarian reasons to (the) following matter. Two million (of our people) died of starvation during the Winter of (year) and spring of (following year) because of (the) starvation policy of (the enemy) who seized and stored until it rotted all available (crop)… three-fourths of (our) cultivated land was flooded in the summer of (year), which was followed by a severe drought; of (our) normal harvest five-sixths was lost….Many people are starving… Unless great world powers and international relief organizations bring us immediate assistance we face imminent catastrophe…”

Here are the questions:

1) Who wrote the above letter (and the other 8 letters) and what country was he/she the leader of?
2) To whom did he/she write the letters?
3) What was the response to the letters?
Bonus question: What year did the country in question gain its independence and write the Declaration of Independence referenced above?

This one may be more difficult than the previous ones, but if no one is getting it, I will begin to give out hints, so hang in there and check back if you are at a loss.

Thanks for playing.